On 31 March 2022, the Work Health and Safety laws replaced the health and safety elements of the Mines Safety and Inspection laws. For information visit www.dmirs.wa.gov.au/whs
All health and safety notifications, forms and guidance for mining and petroleum has moved to the WorkSafe website
What are the hazards?
Drilling is the most common exploration activity. There are a number of hazards posed by this plant which, depending on purpose, are often accompanied by other classified plant (e.g. boosters) and support vehicles.
Pre- and post-drilling activities include:
- mapping, sampling and surveying
- camp preparation
- gridline preparation
- work site preparation
- drill pad preparation
- downhole surveying
- demobilisation and rehabilitation.
Hazards can include:
- manual handling (e.g. samples, core trays)
- working around machinery and plant (e.g. loaders, geophysical surveys, helicopters)
- rotating machinery.
The risks faced in exploration work need to be managed with the same rigour as for any other mining activity, whether on a mine site, processing plant or port. Equipment must still be maintained and the work area made safe.
The main differences can be the temporary nature of much of the infrastructure and remoteness. Emergency preparedness and emergency response planning may have the additional constraints of access to resources and longer response times.
For more detailed information on drilling hazards, see Guidance about exploration drilling hazards.
Exploration typically involves a lot of travelling. See Guidance about travelling for work.
One of the most obvious challenges to people undertaking exploration in Western Australia can be the need to work in landscapes that are remote and harsh. Weather events and extremes of temperature can impact on the exploration program, its timing and the hazards to be considered when developing safe work systems.
The physical environment of the exploration area can impose unique considerations. Sandy environments, mesas, salt lakes and heavily wooded areas will dictate access, and where and how to clear, and sometimes limit the nature of the exploration activity and type of equipment used. This, in turn, will have an impact on the work program and safety considerations for these unique areas.
For more detailed information and useful links, see Guidance about working in remote areas
Timing of program
As well as seasonal weather conditions, the risks associated with other hazards can be influenced by timing, including bush fires and the potential exposure of workers to mosquito-borne diseases.
Guidance about addressing some common fire hazards includes information on bush fires.
Visit the Department of Fire and Emergency Services for more information on total fire bans and exemptions.
Working around existing infrastructure
Whether moving through an existing mine site or mobilising equipment, the presence of infrastructure can pose hazards.
Roads and tracks
Exploration activities have to contend with vehicle movement using existing roads and tracks or by clearing such features to reach the exploration area. This can mean that exploration workers need to be aware of potential restrictions if they travel along or through:
- production areas (e.g. schedules, blast zones)
- multi-use roads for access (e.g. haul roads, gazetted roads)
- pastoral or farm tracks (e.g. stock movement, harvesting activity)
- roads and tracks that might not be suitable for the vehicles (e.g. vehicle width, weight, height, or turning circle)
- service tracks for infrastructure (e.g. parallel to railway or conveyor).
Activities may also involve contractors who are unfamiliar with the procedures or landowner concerns. Permission may be required to travel these roads or pass through these areas. Communication is essential to ensure the risks posed by the hazards are reduced.
Whether drilling, clearing or passing through an area, there is the potential for exploration activity to affect services buried or at surface. These include:
- gas pipelines
These can be owned by the mining company (with plans held on site), external service providers or other mining companies. Not only are there risks associated with excavating or becoming entangled with these features, but they can be damaged by vehicle movement over or along them, whether temporarily or long term. Contact with those responsible for the services will establish the hazards and appropriate risk mitigation strategies required.
Old workings such as pits, shafts, and costeans are dotted throughout parts of the Western Australian landscape. Exploration in these areas can pose particular hazards due to deteriorating ground conditions around such features.
Areas with old workings can also contain polluted water, chemicals and abandoned explosives.
Be aware of the hazards posed by old workings when working or camping in the area.
The department is the custodian of Western Australian mine plans dating back to the late 1880s. This information may be useful when establishing the presence of historical workings or previous drilling in a location.
Codes of practice and guidelines
The Mineral exploration drilling - code of practice below is a practical guide to develop safe systems of work for drilling, particularly in remote areas.
Some codes of practice and guidelines that may be applicable to exploration operations are listed below.
To view all the codes of practice and guidelines, search in the Publications and resources area and download them as a PDF.
The mineral exploration audit is divided into three broad parts covering:
- overall safety and health management systems (Part 1),
- how these management systems are implemented on site and for operational activities in general (Part 2),
- drilling and other field activities in particular (Part 3).
Operators can select aspects relevant to the size and complexity of their operations, and the activities undertaken, and tailor the audit accordingly.
Glove box guide
A glove box guide for exploration and drilling is available for Western Australian companies. Based on the code of practice for mineral exploration drilling, the guide is designed to help manage operational risk by providing prompts for hazard identification and risk assessment.
Western Australian explorers should contact RSDComms@dmirs.wa.gov.au to request hard copies of the glove box guide for exploration and drilling.
The Mine Safety Matters series provides handy guides to specific hazards in the mining industry. Pamphlets relevant to exploration operations are listed below.
To view the full suite of Mine Safety Matters pamphlets, search in the Publications and resources area and download them as a PDF.
Resources Safety has a series of toolbox presentations that can be used in workplace meetings. The presentations below are relevant to exploration operations.
The Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines has produced QGN: Mineral exploration safety guidance note, which has information on the types of control measures to consider for mineral exploration, including drilling.
For exploration camps, the Western Australian Department of Health has produced a Scoping Tool: Public health considerations for mine sites, exploration camps and construction villages that may be of use.