For 15 years the coal mining industry achieved impressive gains in its work health and safety (WHS) performance. Then the gain stalled. Neil Gunningham, RegNet Professor and Co-Director of Climate & Environmental Governance Network (CEGNET), with Darren Sinclair, Research Fellow at Fenner School of Environment and Society, examine why: When does WHS work well? When doesn’t it?
The advances in the coal mining industry were widely attributed to the development of a new WHS architecture based on structured risk management concepts and WHS management systems. Impressed regulators tried to harness this approach, developing a new form of “management-based regulation” which promised both resource-efficient “regulation at a distance” and improved WHS outcomes.
However, the reduction in injuries and fatalities in the coal mining industry plateaued and individual companies with multiple mine sites found themselves unable to apply their WHS architecture successfully across the entirety of their operations.
Gunningham and Sinclair’s recently published book, Managing mining hazards: Regulation, Safety & Trust, digs deeper into the issue and examines why WHS works on some sites but not others. It is based on over 150 interviews with mining industry stakeholders and in-depth access to multiple mine sites within individual companies. The authors conclude that corporate systems and other tools of management-based regulation only work well when WHS is institutionalised, and when it get into the “bloodstream” of the organisation at site level. Only when the formal systems (audits, reporting and monitoring) are supported by informal systems (trust, commitment, engagement) will they be fully effective.
Managing mining hazards: Regulation, Safety & Trust is published through Federation Press