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Explosives risk for mines

Dozens of mining companies are at risk of operating illegally after failing to comply with new security guidelines covering the handling of explosives.

The guidelines for tightening security at mine sites and handling of the explosive ammonia nitrate were introduced on March 1 last year as part of national anti-terrorism regulations.

Executive Risk Solutions director Scott Houston worked closely with the Department of Mines and Petroleum on implementing the guidelines.

He said companies were given one year to comply, but at March 1 2009 there was a massive backlog and not many companies had been given clearance.

"The mining companies who haven't done it or haven't done it properly are, in fact, operating without a licence, which has fairly large legal implications for a site," Mr Houston said.

"If there's an incident, the legal implications for a company are absolutely massive."

Department of Mines and Petroleum resources safety director Phil Hines said mines had an obligation to meet the requirements of the legislation, and the DMP expected companies to do so in a timely fashion.

If mines fail to meet the guidelines the only alternative for the DMP would be to revoke licences or prosecute.

"The biggest risk they run is, one, you're operating without a licence but the other thing is that your insurance will likely not apply, so they'll be operating without insurance," Mr Hines told WA Business News.

"If there is an accident, the insurance will be looking to the mining company to cough up."

The security clearance is intended to protect the community and make companies handling explosives more accountable.

It involves submitting an explosives management plan to the DMP for approval. A template for the plan can be downloaded from the DMP website, or companies can pay outside consultants to draw up a plan.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy occupational health and safety officer Chris White said using the template made the most sense because it was cost effective and meant companies would be operating with a similar plan. However, the DMP was taking a flexible approach to encourage compliance.

"It's a new requirement and for some of the companies with extensive blasting operations it's no small thing," he said.

"The people I've spoken from in the industry are working flat out to get there and some obviously won't get there in time."

Mr White said some companies had mistakenly thought the DMP might extend the deadline.

Environmental, mining and engineering firm GHD consultant Simon Hensworth said he was surprised that people did not see the issue as potentially huge.

He said while non-complying companies risked a fine at best, and an uninsured incident at worst, companies should not be hasty when putting together their plan.

"The danger is that if people put together a plan just to comply with the legislation they may not actually be secure in the case of an incident," Mr Hensworth said.

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