Media Release

We urgently seek high-level intervention before issues escalate with national implications including supply of the very material that is the foundation of every New Zealand building and road.

Mines and quarries are similar, but different yet J Swap Contractors, operating nearly a dozen quarries, believe we are being treated by Government and others as some sort of
second-class mining operator. We urgently seek high-level intervention before issues escalate with national implications including supply of the very material that is the foundation of every New Zealand building and road.

While there are many issues to address, including non-compliance, a good starting point is that quarries are not equitably represented on the Board of Examiners (BOE), nor the Extractive Industry Advisory Group (EIAG), which advises the WorkSafe Board.

Quarries hold just 2 of 11 positions on the BOE, while “large coal” has six. Quarries represent just 1 of 12 positions on the EIAG, where “large coal” has four representatives. To put this in perspective, while Solid Energy was at its peak, mine workers dominated the extractives workforce. However now, with the demise of coal, we now expect the two
sectors to be nearer to the same numbers of representatives on industry bodies. It appears quarries have more issues, but less representation through these WorkSafe appointed groups.

The view of many in the quarry industry is that these groups are loaded with academics and consultants, who are not now employed by Solid Energy. These groups need some balance from people who are responsible for employing staff, who have their own money invested in relevant operations and are liable to prosecution under new H+S legislation.

These industry groups were setup as a result of Pike River and the re-introduction of Mining and Quarrying Regulations (M&Q Regs) in 2013. The focus was rightly on “underground coal”, expanding to “all mining”. The quarry industry was informed of its inclusion in the regs late in the process. We saw rushed legislation which some miners still claim is technically wrong and objected loudly at the time. Quarries are happy to have “fit for purpose” legislation, but not what is being pushed by ex- Solid Energy consultants. Quarries do want to see a plan where all operations are brought up to a higher standard, but in a structured, reasonable timeframe plan. Raising standards without bringing the laggards up to today’s standards will exacerbate the situation we find ourselves in now.

There is an acknowledged problem when quarries experienced four deaths in 2015. Three occurred at operations which did not have the required Certificates of Competence (COC) holders on site, and incidentally were / are not members of any industry association. They weren’t following “acceptable” practices, let alone the legislation of the day. These operations need to be brought up to today’s standards, before the bar is raised with new legislation, or closed down by the Inspectorate if they don’t wish to improve. There are currently many Health & Safety non-compliance issues manifesting in the quarry industry. The Health and Safety at Work (Mining Operations and Quarrying Operations) Regulations 2016 require all mines and quarries to be managed by COC holders as of 1 January 2017.

There was a rush to comply, with many COC candidates being examined under the M&Q Regs in late 2016. The WorkSafe Board of Examiner statistics’ show 55% of 44 B Grade Quarry Managers failed and 37% of 19 A Grade Quarry Managers failed. This would indicate that (24 + 7) 31 quarry operations do not have COCs in place. This figure will be much higher in reality, and the Inspectorate will have a better estimate.

This failure rate indicates that many are not up to standard, but the first issue is the standard is not defined, nor visible, but driven by the new mining-dominated Board of Examiners, established under the 2013 M&Q Regs. The candidates do not have any idea, apart from word on the grapevine, what they will be specifically questioned on. As an Examination Panel member, the writer has witnessed this process.

The questions are not unreasonable, but some examiners, typically from backgrounds in large coal operations, expect a complex answer. Their argument is that these candidates can go on to manage a large operation with “insufficient” knowledge, which is correct. However, there is no training for some of these questions and examiners are looking for specific and detailed answers. Unlike mines which tend to be one-off operations, most quarries are managed within a multi-site management structure.

The Quarry Manager structure within the M&Q Regs is still the same as the 1983 Regs, which predates the old HSE Act 1992 (Health and Safety in Employment Act). This Act changed how many quarries managed H&S, and the Quarry Industry is currently involved in a proposed review of the M&Q Regs. We propose to allow for Quarry Supervisor COCs, in turn managed by a Quarry Manager COC, across a number of sites if required, replicating modern management. We support having someone responsible for H&S on each site, every working day, but there are not enough academically-qualified people to have a “Manager” on each site.

A difference between mining and quarrying is the ratio of COC holders to staff supervised. In a typical mine there will be a number of staff per COC holder, which will be greater than in quarries. Two extreme examples Stockton (coal mine) had ~800 people, now at ~250. As a 24 hr operation, at least 2 COC holders are required each day. As a 7 day operation, this needs to expand to 4, and say a 5th for holidays. At 250 staff, that’s 50:1 (staff: COC). In
Fulton Hogan, a large player in quarries, they have a number of 2 man portable crushers, which work remotely and require a COC holder. That’s a ratio of 1:1. These operators will have managers above them, but a mine is typically a unique one- site operation. The point is the quarry industry cannot ahract academically-trained staff, which the BOE would like to see running all these operations, down to the likes of the two- man crews. Such crews need
to be productive to supply roading materials economically to the NZTA network.

To summarise, quarries want to comply with “fit for purpose” legislation, and raise standards in the future in a manageable way. The quarry representatives on the EIAG and BOE feel that they are out- numbered, and not heard. As these groups are the conduit to, and appointed by, WorkSafe, MBIE and Government, quarries appeal for a more proportional and balanced industry representation, especially by those who put their own money up and expose themselves to the risk of prosecution. There are many other issues within the Extractives sector that quarries want to address, which should be addressed to Government through the above groups. To address these in this short paper is impractical but more information can readily be supplied.

  • The writer, Mike Higgins, is employed by J Swap Contractors, which operate eleven quarries within the greater Waikato and Bay of Plenty area. It is the major regional player with a huge commitment to Health and Safety and a considerable commitment to training. Mike is also a member of the AQA (Aggregate and Quarry Association) Board and a Panel Member for oral examinations conducted by the BOE, so is amongst all quarries’ issues. Mike’s employment history is mainly roading contracting related, with companies that run quarry operaIons, which where his specialisation now lays. He also has six months working at Stockton Mine, and another six months at Macraes Gold Mine. Mike is qualified with NZCE civil, BE civil and has held an A Grade Quarry Manager COC since the early 1990’s.