Mineral Compliance and Inspection


5. Inspections and audits

Compliance monitoring is one component of compliance enforcement. Monitoring implies measuring and recording, whilst enforcement goes beyond monitoring to cover the actions taken to encourage and promote compliance and to correct identified instances of non-compliance.

Regulations normally empower inspectors to visit mines and to inspect all aspects of the operation at their discretion. Inspectors must, without relinquishing their authority, take all reasonable measures to avoid unnecessary disruption of normal mining activities. They should treat all officials at the mines with courtesy and respect, and should expect to receive the same treatment. 

Inspectors should strive for maximum efficiency by being fully prepared in advance for each visit and having specific objectives.

Departmental resources should be used efficiently, such as by visiting multiple adjacent operations during a single field trip where possible and splitting up instead of working in groups inspecting the same items.

It must be clearly understood that inspectors have the power to give instructions, including the power to order any activity at a mine to stop, temporarily or permanently, if such activity is in contravention of the law or regulations or places the health or safety of any persons at undue risk.

Possible objectives of mine inspection visits  

Nature of Visit

 Objectives 

Routine Inspection

Health and safety​​​​​​

Full Audit

  • Compliance
  • Regulations
  • Contract
  • Mining plan, feasibility study, license conditions.
  • Production for royalty calculations and compliance with licensed activity levels

Incident Investigation

Major, reportable incidents

Approvals

Management requests for exemptions, approvals of new equipment etc.

Information Gathering and Technical Advice

Departmental statistics; dissemination of technical advice

Good practice for routine inspections and audits

It is good practice to set annual targets for frequency of inspections of each mine. This is not a matter of dividing resources equally between all mines but rather of analysing risk profiles and allocating resources accordingly.

The most important factors to be considered in deciding priority for resource allocation and frequency of routine inspection are the inherent risk and the likelihood of incidents.

The following factors may also have a bearing on decisions relating to inspection timetables:

  • Nature of the operation: Underground vs. open pit, coal or fiery mine vs. non-fiery, use of mobile equipment

  • Ground conditions (Underground and open pit)

  • Frequency of reported incidents

  • Results of previous inspections; history of non-compliance

Mines with a history of incidents, particularly with high injury rates or previous fatalities and mines with a very weak health and safety culture, showing particularly in a hostile attitude of management, warrant close attention. Where legal exemptions have been granted from any regulations, or new or unusual equipment or techniques have been approved, inspections should be planned to assess whether the exemption or approval is being properly applied in work practice and whether it remains appropriate.

Audits are carried out for the purposes outlined above, by teams which might include different skills such as electrical and mechanical experts, geologists and sometimes representatives of other authorities, e.g. environmental. An audit should have a specific objective and should be conducted against a pre-determined standard or check-list of items to be audited. These might comprise a summary of requirements of a license or contract, feasibility study or mining plan. 

Approvals and exemptions

Regulations may require approval by inspectors of a variety of documents: mining plans, feasibility studies, mine rehabilitation and closure plans, risk assessments, health and safety programmes, codes of conduct, operating procedures and many others.

Regulations may also require formal inspectorate approval or licensing of technical items: mining methods and layouts, mine plans, ventilation systems and installations, machines and equipment, and specialised structures such as explosives magazines.

Inspectors might be required to carry out competency testing and certification of individuals for certain skills such as mobile plant operators and, importantly, blasting.

In addition, regulations sometimes allow inspectors to issue exemptions from normal requirements under certain conditions. An example is re-entry after blasting. Normally, in an advancing development end, i.e. tunnel, drilling and blasting is completed once in every 24 hours and re-entry to the work place is a minimum of 4 hours after blasting. When a mine wishes to progress a tunnel faster than normal (“high-speed development”), an exemption may be issued allowing re-entry after a much shorter period (typically 15 minutes) and “multi-blast” conditions where the drill and blast cycle might be repeated an unlimited number of times in a 24-hour period. This would require much enhanced ventilation arrangements and other precautions specified in the written exemption. Before approving such an exemption, an inspector would visit the mine to verify conditions and to conduct gas tests during early re-entry, to satisfy himself that the ventilation is adequate and that the requested exemption can be granted without compromising health and safety.

Preparing for mine visits

To be effective, an inspector must be fully conversant with all relevant regulations. In addition, in preparation for a visit to a mine, he or she should be aware of all up-to-date information relevant to that mine. By studying the mine file (see below) he or she can make themselves familiar, ahead of a visit, with relevant aspects of the operation, identify important focus areas and plan a structured visit:

The Extractives Hub briefing note Supplementary Guidance for Mining Inspectors includes a generic checklist of items that can be covered in routine inspections and which can be used as guidance in preparing for inspections.

During visits

Inspectors are advised to put any instructions issued during any visit in writing. This may be done, even handwritten on a piece of paper and signed by the inspector during a visit, followed by an official letter on the inspector’s return to the office. For serious matters of immediate safety risks, the inspector should obtain the manager’s or a mine official’s signature for receipt of an instruction, even if the signature is in the inspector’s notebook.

During visits, inspectors should observe and take particular note of any significant CHANGES: e.g. change in technology or equipment, management (new manager), operating systems etc. Changes are often causes of incidents.

Post-visit inspection report and follow up

Every inspection visit should be recorded in a written report by the inspector(s) participating in the inspection, completed reasonably soon after the inspection.

Sample table of contents:

1. Location, description and geology of the mine

2. A technical overview of mining operations

3. Ventilation

4. Survey and planning

5. Mineral processing

6. Health and safety, including good practice, bad practice and non-compliances observed

7. Equipment

8. Actions taken by the inspector

9. Recommendations

An inspection report should specifically include

  • A clear statement of instructions given to mine management, with deadline dates

  • Details of approvals or exemptions granted, and expiry date if applicable

  • Details of any blasting licenses issued

  • Details of any fines or penalties imposed

After every inspection, a letter should additionally be sent to the Mine Manager. It may contain the following:

1. Greetings and thanks for hospitality, assistance and co-operation received during the inspection

2. A reminder of any key points discussed and verbal recommendations made to the manager during the visit

3. Clear instructions regarding any health and safety matters or breaches of regulations requiring to be rectified, with deadline dates

4. Requests or instructions to the manager to notify the inspector when actions have been started or completed

Note that the inspector may make suggestions and requests in certain cases, for example, recommended actions to improve efficiency; a request for feedback on whether an action to improve efficiency has been successful. However, in the case of issues affecting health and safety or where the mine is not complying with regulations, instructions are given. The inspector has authority and must use it to protect persons and to ensure compliance with the law.

Following up mine instructions

The report, letter and any other relevant documentation should be recorded in the mine file. The value of any inspection system depends on effective follow-up to ensure that agreed actions have been implemented and any instructions given have been obeyed. The inspector must take note of the deadline dates for all actions and check that he has received notice that they have been completed, in which case he will make a note in the mine file and will carry out a check on his next inspection.

If notice is not received from the mine, the inspector should demand confirmation by writing, telephoning or visiting, and must take action such as stopping activities until his requirements have been implemented.

Mine Instructions

The following are examples of mine instructions:

1. “You shall, by no later than (date), issue all employees with the following items of personal protective equipment (list supplied) and shall notify an inspector that this has been done. Failure to comply with this instruction will result in closure of the operations affected.”

2. “You shall immediately cease all work on 3 Level Drive west until it has been supported to within 2m of the face as per the standard in your Code of Practice. When this has been completed, you shall notify this office in writing and may then resume development of the drive, in which case standard support shall at all times be kept to within not more than four metres of the face.”

Mine files

The Ministry of Mines should establish and maintain a filing system with a file on each mine. Files may be digital, hard copy or both. Files might be held in a central or regional office according to how each ministry is structured. There are advantages to combining cadastral and technical and other records into a single file for each mine, contract or license area.

Mine files are typically used to:

  • Record all available cadastral, administrative and technical data for each operation.

  • Record each aspect of the formal relationship between the Department of Inspectorate and the management of the mine, by storing all correspondence, reports and other documents generated during interaction between Ministry officials and mine owners and management.

  • Facilitate the planning and direction of activities of officials of the Department of Inspectorate in respect of each operation, taking account of known legal, technical and other issues relevant to individual operations.

  • Provide a comprehensive record of useful information to assist when compiling inspection reports, making recommendations on technical improvements or health and safety matters, preparing written instructions to Mine Managers and contemplating further actions such as prosecution or arbitration.

  • Provide provide reference material when reviewing incident reports.

  • To facilitate continuity and effective follow-up of issues specific to individual operations.

The Extractives Hub briefing note Supplementary Guidance for Mining Inspectors also includes a checklist of suggested contents of a mine file.