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Queensland Farmers in danger due to lack of appropriate gas industry WHS regulation

A new Queensland study has identified major risks to Queensland farmers who host unconventional gas operations on their properties due to a lack of properly enforced workplace health and safety regulations.

The report, written by Chinchilla resident Shay Dougall, who has recently completed a Masters in Workplace Health and Safety, finds that farmers and their businesses are not being appropriately considered from a WHS viewpoint when gas companies establish themselves on their farmland.

The study has been published through the International Journal, Policy and Practice in Health and Safety.

The report finds that despite the Office of Industrial Relations, Department of Resource, Mines and Energy and the Petroleum and Gas Act all possessing some authority over WHS enforcement for the unconventional gas industry, major gaps still exist where farmers are concerned.

The report states, “The research findings show that the host farmer is left in a position where s/he is potentially exposed to WHS risk via the interface with the UG industry, but without a clearly defined path for remedy via the Petroleum and Gas Act, nor clearly defined path of jurisdictional support from the WHS Act.”

Until now, little research has looked into the WHS implications of the coexistence between farmers and the coal seam gas industry in the shared space that is a farm business, a family home, and a resource extraction site. 

This is despite the fact that Safework Australia identifies agriculture as already one of the most dangerous industries to work in. Combined with the activities of an extractive industry, there is the potential for WHS risks to dramatically increase.

Mrs Dougall said with the unconventional gas industry now spread across 62 000 km2 of Queensland’s agricultural country, and much of its infrastructure co-located on host farmer workplaces, she had felt a need to explore the apparent lack of all encompassing WHS regulations.

“What I discovered is that a farm, which is both a business and a home, is often not considered in the same WHS light as the business activities of unconventional gas companies,” she said.

“For example, there is a failure of jurisdictional arrangements between the Office of Industrial Relations and the Department of Natural Resources and Mines and Energy, intended to regulate WHS issues. 

“The jurisdictional arrangements do not properly provide WHS regulation and responsibility in relation to machinery used to extract and process gas at a well site.

“This is obviously a major area of concern for farmers who must continue working in their place of business alongside multiple well sites and other infrastructure.”

The research identifies several ways forward and suggestions to help remedy the situation, such as reviewing the jurisdictional arrangements between DNRME and OIR, undertaking further research on the WHS impacts of the gas industry on farmers, and increasing the power of the farmer in access agreement negotiations with gas companies.

As part of her research, Mrs Dougall has also developed an app, called the GasHaz App - a first of its kind - that allows landholders to log compliance complaints independently of industry and government. 

The GasHaz App allows users to simplify and facilitate the complaints process, a daunting task for landholders. It also allows them to order environmental monitoring with ease and professional advice.

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