Environmentally Mine – Part 2

Published : 16 Feb, 2018

What does good Environmental Management and a newspaper have in common?

In the last edition we explored what the Environment is and why we should minimise any impact on it. To do this we need to Manage our activities using a Management System.

The environment is integral to our existence, essential to our long-term survival and wellbeing. Managers, engineers, operators, drivers − indeed all people − working in mining need to be aware of environmental issues, the potential environmental ramifications of their actions and the importance of environmental management.

Most decisions can have an effect on the environment and making appropriate decisions which take the environment into account should be a part of everyone’s job; not just that of designated environmental managers. Environmental management should be totally embedded with all other aspects of work. 

Concern about the environment is not new. Julius Caesar introduced restrictions on the entry of carts into Rome between 11pm and 6am in 55 BC. This was an early noise reduction law.

The current Australian environmental legislation at both Commonwealth and State level contains the concept of an “environmental duty of care”. This places the onus on all citizens and companies to act as stewards of the environment. 

Corporate and individual responsibility

Both you and the company have this Environmental Duty of Care. Similarly both you and the company can be prosecuted for not fulfilling this Duty. We prove that we have done the right thing by using Due Diligence.

Due diligence

This is not only doing the right thing but also the process of recording that you have done the right thing. This is the crucial defence if an incident led to a prosecution.

For example if a blown hydraulic hose on a grader working on a haul road led to contamination of a local creek what proof do we have that we have fulfilled our Duty of Care? We have records that we did a pre-start check prior starting the grader that day; we have maintenance records that we have maintained the grader according to manufacturers’ recommendations; We took part in a pre-start toolbox meeting to identify any risks that we may encounter, including environmental hazards. The mine rescue team has used a spill kit clean up the oil from the creek and we have records that the mine rescue team has been trained to use the spill kit; we have a JSEA for the job which has identified any environmental risk issues and measures that need to taken to control those risks.

All of these records are evidence that you and the mine have taken all reasonable and practicable measures to prevent the incident occurring in the first place or have minimised the impact of the incident. This is the legal Reasonable Person Test which aims to see if you behaved as a reasonable(or average) person would behave.

We will report and investigate the incident to find the Root Cause and devise corrective actions to reduce the risk that a similar incident may occur in the future.

I am sure that all of the above is very familiar to anyone working on a mine site. This is the heart of the Environmental Management System (EMS). I know I get tired of all the paperwork that this requires but it all pays off when we blow a hose in the wrong place.

The following Canadian court case is an example of prosecution and the judgement has provided the basis for decisions in Australian courts.

Case study

Bata Industries

One of the first significant decisions on the issue of prosecution of company officers was made by an Ontario (Canada) court in 1992. Bata Industries Limited, its president and vice-president/general manager responsible for operations were convicted by the provincial courts of various environmental offences, including discharging liquid industrial waste into the ground and industrial waste into the environment.

In his sentencing, Judge Ormiston said: “Within this general profile and dependent upon the nature and structure of the corporate activity, one would hope to find remedial and contingency plans for spills, a system of ongoing environmental audit, training programs, sufficient authority to act and other indices of a proactive environmental policy”. He also added: “It is not acceptable for them to insulate themselves from all responsibility for environmental violations by delegating all aspects of compliance to subordinates”.

One of the reasons why this case is so important is that it was the first time individuals were prosecuted for failing to follow due diligence principles or take all reasonable care to avoid causing an environmental impact. Furthermore, not only was the company fined, but the individuals were personally liable and responsible for paying the fine.

The judge decided that for an organisation to show reasonable care and diligence it should, at a minimum, have a system in place that shows:

  • commitment to leadership from management;
  • delegation of defined tasks to ensure accountability;
  • a well-defined reporting system relating to requirements of defined outcomes as well as daily operations;
  • education and training programs for employees and contractors;
  • environmental compliance and programs monitoring contamination; and
  • operating procedures to deal with emergencies, complaints, regulatory authority investigations, waste management and dangerous goods management.

Although the Bata case is Canadian, it is used in all Australian legal jurisdictions as a legal precedent. This sets the benchmark for our behaviour (adapted from Baird et al 2001 and Nelson and Wilson 2003a).

It is crucial to keep a record of those environmental considerations as this is the main defence in the event of a prosecution. This enables a mine to show that the EMS is effective and the all Reasonable and Practicable Measures have been implemented. The case study above shows what can happen if your EMS is not well designed or not being followed.

Duty to notify

If you become aware of environmental harm being caused or threatened by an activity in which you are involved, you have a duty to report that harm. This is part of your Environmental Duty of Care.

This is the duty to notify environmental harm. It is an offence not to do this and you can be prosecuted. This is a very important task for individual employees. Most “coal face” employees are prosecuted because they have not notified their supervisor that an environmental incident has occurred. I know that when you spill diesel on the ground during refuelling it is easy to kick some dirt over it spill and think that the problem has been dealt with. I can assure you that this is not the case. More importantly, if it later comes to a court case, you may find yourself on your own. The company can’t help you if they did not know that the incident occurred.

Once you have notified your supervisor about the incident you have fulfilled your Duty of Care and are in the clear in a legal sense. I know that there will be plenty of paperwork for you to fill out and that you will have to go back and clean up the spill properly but this will save you from any legal problems down the track.

Organisations often ask: when should we notify the authorities? Strictly speaking, if an incident can be classified as follows, then the relevant authorities should be notified by the authorised staff member:

  • if a licence condition is breached; or
  • if an incident results in any environmental damage or contaminants escaping off the site; or
  • if the incident resulted in significant damage on the site.

In general it is far better to inform authorities even for seemingly trivial issues. The relevant authorities will be less adversarial if you have approached them first.

Environmental management and your organisation

All aspects of a company’s environmental impacts must be recognised and strategies put in place to deal with these issues without reducing the company’s performance. Once management guidelines are identified, plans, initiatives and incentives can be activated to achieve the organisation’s objectives. As with all management plans, to succeed fully environmental plans and goals must be supported by the company’s senior management – this is the key element and needs a clear and visible commitment both in words and deeds.

In addition ALL employees must be aware of their own role in the environmental management plan. Generally speaking the standard operating procedures will include relevant actions to ensure the environment is protected.

Management system

To manage anything we must have a system:

This can be as simple as a to-do list, where each item is assigned to a responsible person and must be completed by a specific due date. However, the variety of activities and large number of personnel in most organisations warrants more complex environmental management systems.

Successful Environmental Management

The key to achieving the desired environmental outcome relies on commitment from all levels at the mine. This will require good management; clear communication and training to ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them. This sounds easy but we all know it is not.

When in doubt if something you see is an environmental incident – ALWAYS REPORT TO YOUR SUPERVISOR. This can be noise; dust; odour; liquid spill; poor waste management etc.

This is why good environmental management is like a newspaper – PLENTY OF REPORTERS.