1.4 Hazard identification and risk management

The generic risk assessment processes are covered extensively in the leading practice handbook Risk assessment and management (DRET 2008). In the context of air contaminants, noise and vibration, there are a few issues that need to be considered in some detail.

These include the complex issue of managing the risk of chronic and potentially fatal disease and disorders with long latency periods arising from cumulative exposures to certain emissions. Examples include asbestos, silica dust, coal dust, and smelter emissions (such as those at Mt Isa in Queensland and Port Pirie in South Australia). The long-term effects of noise and vibration include hearing loss, circulatory disorders and a wide range of illnesses and disorders associated with loss of sleep. Assessment of these hazards needs to consider those most at risk and most susceptible, including the very young and the elderly.

In addition to health hazards, risks that need to be considered include hazards to community amenity and local flora and fauna. A good example of this is nuisance dust, which is monitored and controlled not because it is a health hazard but because of the annoyance caused by its presence. Similarly, community noise exposure standards are framed in terms of minimising the disruption to the community.

Environmental monitoring standards have been derived to address these hazards. State, territory and federal environmental agencies can provide details of relevant standards to adhere to: for example, the National Environment Protection Measures (EPHC 2009). These standards are referred to in more detail in the later chapters.

The legislative framework on environmental management and health and safety in most states and territories is framed as requiring mine managers to implement substantial risk management processes. The legislation also makes reference to standards in guidance on compliance. Management of risk should be initiated at the design stage, as promoted by Safework Australia (2009).

It is important to follow the hierarchy of control when implementing controls and, wherever possible, to focus controls at the top of the hierarchy by eliminating the hazard. If this is not possible, the next step is to consider substituting the process that creates the hazard. If this is not feasible, engineering controls should be applied at source to manage the hazard. Control at the receptor should be considered only when these other options are not possible.

In Australia, the proponents of major projects are required to submit and have approved environmental impact statements and environmental management plans that identify environmental hazards, assess the risk, identify the measures by which their performance should be judged, implement monitoring and engage third-party auditors to confirm the effectiveness of the program.

This approach facilitates continuing improvement of industry environmental standards, but is costly and is a burden for smaller operators and projects.

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