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This article is written by Jannat, from Chandigarh University, Mohali. The article analyzes the UK’s legal framework for mining.

Introduction

The UK has one of the oldest mining industries in the world. It was at its peak during the Industrial Revolution, but now it has started declining. British have a great history in mining industries, they not only developed the industry in Britain but also in their colonies outside Britain, like India, South Africa etc. This helped the British industry grow during the industrial revolution. The mining industry also played a great role during world war I and world war II. 

The decline is due to the country’s commitment to the environment.

At present, the UK has 2000 mines and quarries. It is the source of employment for 36000 people and generates 34 billion pounds of minerals.

Who regulates mining in the UK?

The United Kingdom comprises Britain, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Some laws apply to the whole UK and some only to parts of it, therefore some powers to make laws on mining are delegated by the British government to the government of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The authority to make laws differs according to the mineral in question. Mine operators need to take permission for mineral leases, environmental consents and other permissions from the authorities. 

According to the law of property, the landowner owns the mineral beneath his land except few minerals are under government or crown control. 

Mineral distribution in the UK

Image source: Wikipedia

Leading mining companies headquartered in the UK

Name of the Company Revenue (in billion £)
Gencore 138.99
BHP 33.34
Rio Tinto 32.46
Anglo American 21.41
Antofagasta 3.55

Brexit

Britain might face a shortage of labour due to the restriction on movement. It will increase the cost of labour, and will adversely affect the availability of labour, but all the major players in the field had prepared themselves in advance for the challenges they may face ahead, European union mining regulations will be kept intact until and unless new laws are framed to take their place.

Administrative authorities

Coal Authority

The coal authority was established under the Coal Industry Act, 1994. It has the ownership of most of the coal mines and virgin coal in the UK. It also has authority over non-coal mines and other minerals in coal mining areas. It is a decision making, quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation. Its functions are licensing, administering, and it holds accountability for damages done by coal mines.

Crown Estate Acts of 1956 and 1961

Gold and Silver are managed by the British crown through their crown estate mineral agent. The corporate estate is also in charge of the seabed to 12 nautical miles and non-energy mineral rights to 200 nautical miles the whole UK. Its functions are granting license for marine extraction.  

Oil and Gas Authority

It was established under the Energy Act, 2016. It is owned by the state. It provides licence to the oil operators in the UK, both offshore and onshore.

Health and Safety Executive, 1975

It works together with local authorities to ensure health and safety at the workplace setting the strategy, policy, legislative framework for workplace safety in the UK. It also provides training to the workers to deal with risks they can face. There is a different HSE for Northern Ireland.

Environment Agency

It was formed under the Environment Act, 1995. For Scotland, it is Scotland environmental protection agency, for Wales natural resources Wales (2013), and Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland environment agency(2016)

The Mineral Development Act (Northern Ireland), 1969

This act empowered the department of the economy of the Northern Ireland government to control some of the minerals and grant them a license there.

Legislative framework

The Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974

Section 1 defines the objective of the act as follows:

  1. Ensuring the health, safety and welfare of people at work,
  2. Protecting persons, other than workers, against risks to health or safety arising out of or in connection with the activities of the workers,
  3. Regulating the maintenance and use of explosive or highly flammable or otherwise dangerous substances, and preventing their unlawful acquisition, possession and usage.

Section 2 defines the duties of the employer, “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his/her employees”, and it includes the following:

  • Provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;
  • Arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances;
  • Provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees;
  • So far as is reasonably practicable as regards any place of work under the employer’s control, the maintenance of it in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it that are safe and without such risks;
  • Provision and maintenance of a working environment for his employees that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without health risks and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work.

Section 3 states the duty of all employers and self-employed persons to ensure the safety of people other than employees, for example, contractors, visitors, the general public and clients.

Section 7 defines the duties of an employee as following:

  • Take reasonable care for the health and safety of him/herself and of another person who may be affected by his/her acts or omissions at work.
  • Cooperate with employers or other persons so far as is necessary to enable them to perform their duties or requirements under the Act.

The act has benefited the safety of British workers on a large scale, from 1974 to 2015 the fatal injuries to employees have fallen by 85% and non-fatal injuries have fallen by 77%.

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulation commonly known as PUWER Act. It was established under the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974. Employers, employees and the supplier of equipment are obliged under this Act.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

According to this Act, the employer must protect the employees from danger at the workplace, it also adds accountability to the employees.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002

The control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 or COSHH requires the employer to make arrangements to protect employees from risk from Hazardous Substances. This could be done by the following:

  • Collecting information about health threats from the substance in use,
  • Finding ways how risks can be minimized,
  • Providing measures to reduce the harm,
  • Making sure the measures are practised,
  • Checking the maintenance of the controlling measures,
  • By informing,  and training employees and others,
  • Keeping a regular check on employees health,
  • planning for catastrophes.

Dangerous Substances and Explosives Atmospheres Regulations 2002

This Act protects the employees and others against:

  • a substance, that is either explosive, oxidising or extremely flammable,
  • A substance whose chemical properties and the way it is used or is presented at the workplace creates a threat.

Explosives Regulations 2014

Explosive Regulation 2014 consolidated and revoked several explosives regulations. It has brought together the requirements of health and safety-related explosives legislation into a framework based around common topics such as authorisation, safety, security and placing on the market. As a result of the consolidation, the Approved Code of Practice to the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005 was withdrawn. Guidance relating to the security of explosives, and guidance on the placing of civil use explosives on the market was also withdrawn.

The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations, 2016

They replaced the 2010 Act. mining operations need environmental permissions, under this Act, companies need to take permits to crush, grind or reduce minerals, in any case where it will release anything in the air. companies need to take permission before discharging toxic substances into the water. Environmental permits for mining waste operation are required to manage extractive waste.

Tax and royalties

There is a separate tax regime for the oil and gas sector, but there are no special rules for other minerals.

Royalty is paid to the government for the approval to work in the mines. it could be established in an agreement with the TCE or private landowners. In particular, rights to extract minerals from the seabed within 12 nautical miles territorial limit are granted by TCE governed by the payment of royalties.

TCE is the body responsible for licensing the extraction of marine sand and gravel resources which are widely used in construction projects, as well as for coastal protection and land reclamation, whereas coal deposits are managed by the Coal Authority.

Important judgements

Vedanta v. Lungowe, 2019

Facts

1,826 people from a Zambian village filed suit against Vedanta, a UK based mining company and its subsidiary in Zambia KCM, for discharging toxic waste in water used for drinking and irrigation.

Issue 

Does Vedanta, the parent company, can be held liable for the action of the subsidiary?

Argument by petitioner

They quote the judgments given in Unilever and Shell respectively. These case laws established a general principle that a parent company doesn’t own a duty of care for the acts of its subsidiary because it provides policies and guidelines to the subsidiary.

This argument was rejected by the Supreme Court. It was held that a parent company may assume a duty of care where group-wide policies are implemented and administered by the parent. Therefore Vedanta was held liable.

Conclusion

The mining laws in the UK are effectively executed and are Amended according to the requirement of the time. They can achieve their objectives, which is understandable as the standard of life of people working in mines has improved and accidents at the workplace have decreased by a significant amount. It is appreciable that protection is given to the personnel resource and natural resources of the country. The industry is declining to protect the environment from the harm it causes. The government has promised that it will shut down coal mining till 2025.

The execution of mining laws in the UK is exemplary as having a legal framework is not all if it is not enforced properly. India also has a great legal framework for mining, but we often hear about the labour casualties in the mining industry in India because the laws are not enforced properly and the miners are not provided with adequate training. The UK mining model provides a blueprint for other nations to follow. 

Reference

  1. https://iclg.com/practice-areas/mining-laws-and-regulations/united-kingdom

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