Many mine sites in Western Australia are located in remote areas away from populated areas. Because of the distances involved and the amount of time that would be spent travelling to and from work, employers may have to provide their workers with somewhere to live.
How does the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 apply?
Under their general duty of care obligations, the employer providing accommodation for workers must maintain the premises so the occupants are not exposed to hazards. This applies in relation to premises where the residence:
- is owned or controlled by the employer
- is outside the metropolitan area or a gazetted town site
- and workers must live there because no other accommodation is reasonably available in the area.
The obligation does not apply where there is a tenancy agreement or lease-like arrangement. In these cases, the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 usually applies.
Workers living in employer-provided accommodation have a duty of care to bring to their employer’s attention any issues relating to safety and health, in the same way they would notify an owner of problems if they were leasing a domestic property.
Want to know more about the duty of care? See Minerals safety legislation
Due to the often remote nature of mine sites, exploration camps and construction villages, the residents are not only isolated from health services, but can be located in areas prone to weather extremes and natural disasters such as cyclones and bush fires.
It is therefore essential that there is an emergency response plan in place, including plans for medical and general evacuations.
Public health factors
Mine sites, exploration camps and construction villages need to consider the health and wellbeing of employees and local communities.
Factors to be considered include (but are not limited to):
- air quality, noise and light pollution (e.g. dust, smoke, ash, odours, buffer, traffic)
- water quality (e.g. potable, recycling water, waste water, recreational water bodies)
- land and hazard management (e.g. mosquito-borne diseases, pests, use of pesticides, contaminated sites, soil types)
- workforce health
These factors are discussed in the Western Australian Department of Health’s scoping tool on public health considerations for mine sites, exploration camps and construction villages. This document provides guidance on health considerations when designing employer-provided accommodation. Some of the factors are discussed in greater detail below.
The Scoping tool: Public health considerations for mine sites, exploration camps and construction villages is available from the WA Department of Health.
Cool clean drinking water needs to be available from at least one location separate from the toilet area.
In situations where connection to a drinking water supply through a licensed provider is not available, consider alternative drinking water systems.
All drinking water quality monitoring results must be provided to the WA Department of Health WA as referred to by the following two documents:
All mine sites and exploration camps providing drinking water to workers are obliged to comply with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011.
Where a reticulated sewerage system is not available, health and environmental concerns may arise if a site does not install and maintain an appropriate onsite wastewater system to service the workforce.
More information on water quality requirements at mine site accommodation is available in Scoping tool: Public health considerations for mine sites, exploration camps and construction villages.
Legionnaires disease is a serious and potentially life-threatening lung infection that is caused by the bacteria Legionella. Cooling towers and evaporative air conditioning systems are potential sources of bacterial species if not properly maintained.
More information on the control of legionella is also available in the legionnaires disease environmental health guide produced by the WA Department of Health.
Employers must ensure a safe and nutritious supply of food for the workforce and, if appropriate, hygienic areas for preparing and eating meals.
A mine site needs to provide written evidence on how food will be supplied and transported safely to the site in compliance with the Food Act 2008 and associated standards and regulations.
Information on how to comply with the Food Act 2008 and associated standards and regulations is available from the WA Department of Health.
Land and hazard management
When employer-provided accommodation is being constructed, care must be taken to use soil and other materials free of contaminants.
Vector-borne diseases must be managed. Mosquito populations and the types of mosquito-borne diseases vary across Western Australia. Mine sites, exploration camps and construction villages can create new habitats for mosquitoes to breed, and may be located in remote areas where serious mosquito-borne disease is prevalent and mosquito management is difficult.
Sites located near waterways, salt marshes, or in cyclone- or flood-prone areas will be particularly susceptible to mosquito populations. Infrastructure needs to be appropriately located, designed and maintained so it does not create new mosquito breeding sites after installation.
Accommodation standards and requirements
Employers providing residential accommodation need to ensure that:
- buildings are in good repair and separated from noise, heat, dirt and atmospheric contaminants
- the building is adequately secured to protect the occupants and their belongings
- buildings in cyclonic areas are constructed to cyclone proof specifications
- residents are familiar with the emergency evacuation plan
- ventilation is provided and there is protection from emissions, dust, smoke, ash, odour
- there are buffers from noise (including traffic), as potential noise impacts to incoming residents and accommodation villages can occur from sources such as industrial equipment, trucks and machinery, pumps or refrigeration plants)
- there is adequate lighting.
For these reasons, such accommodation should be strategically located to reduce risks relating to the dominant wind direction and distance from mine activities.
There must be adequate facilities for showering, hand washing and laundering, along with an adequate number of toilets.
If a swimming pool (or aquatic facility) is to be provided for worker use, then additional approvals are required to ensure the pool is installed and operated to consistently high health and safety standards.
Aquatic facilities must have approval under the Health (Aquatic Facilities) Regulations 2007. The WA Department of Health also provides guidance on this topic.
Work and lifestyle factors
Health and fitness
Many employer-provided accommodation sites provide exercise facilities, which may be beneficial, particularly if work routines are mainly sedentary, repetitive or mentally demanding.
Regular exercise helps maintain physical and mental fitness, particularly when combined with eating healthy meals and getting enough sleep. Any exercise regime should cover both aerobic and musculoskeletal fitness. Appropriate education of the workforce should be considered on health and fitness issues.
Information on lifestyle initiatives that could be used in an education program are available from the WA Department of Health.
Fitness for work
The long hours, shift structure and arduous nature (mental or physical) of the work performed can expose workers to fitness-for-work issues. The design, available facilities, and management of the employer-provided accommodation can assist in combatting some of the issues associated with:
- shift structure and working hours
- alcohol and other drugs
- mental health and wellbeing.
Find out about What is fitness for work? and related topics in the Resources section.