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Report on the Association’s 2009 seminar proceedings

The customary afternoon seminar session at the British Aggregates Association’s 2009 annual general meeting and members’ dinner event, which took place at the Palace Hotel in Buxton on 22 June, once again focused on a number of key themes and issues of particular concern and interest to BAA members, including recent changes in health and safety legislation, developments in education and training, future market prospects and current environmental and planning matters.

However, before the formal seminar proceedings began, Eric Darlow, former head of HM Quarries Inspectorate, took the floor to present BAA Site Assessment Scheme compliance certificates to three member companies: Geddes Group of Arbroath, Angus; Skene Group of Glenrothes, Fife; and Middleton Aggregates of King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

Launched in 2007, the scheme aims to assess the operating standards in SME quarries in order to provide members with the comfort of knowing that their site(s) meet the standards necessary to demonstrate that they are being operated competently and in accordance with The Quarries Regulations 1999 and current environmental legislation.

Congratulating the latest successful recipients, Mr Darlow, in his role as chair of the Assessment Scheme, said the awards were a ‘signal achievement for which the reassurance that health and safety performance is on course is its own reward’.

He added: ‘With the current approach to enforcement activity, the increase in civil litigation and the salutary effect of the new corporate manslaughter legislation, the BAA scheme is an important insurance for employers by providing evidence of competence in complying with health and safety laws and best practice. I strongly recommend as many BAA members as possible to join the scheme as soon as it is reasonable for them to do so.’

Turning briefly to individual qualifications, Mr Darlow also commended to members the new University of Derby diplomas in quarry and asphalt technology. He said that while the former Doncaster College-based DAPS course had, without doubt, been responsible for the impressive strength and depth of quarry management today, the progressive programme of studies currently on offer at Derby represented an important development for the industry, as the new diplomas are now included within the national qualifications framework.   

Ralph Stubbs, director of Handson Safety Services Ltd, began the formal seminar proceedings with an update on health and safety legislation. He began by outlining just some of the wide-ranging legislative changes that have taken place since 2000, including the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007, the Health and Safety Offences Act 2008, and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. He also focused on several recently introduced regulations of key interest to BAA members, such as those covering working at height and the control of noise and vibration at work, before going on to highlight a number of proposed and forthcoming changes to safety legislation. Echoing Eric Darlow’s sentiments, Mr Stubbs concluded by encouraging members to participate in the BAA Site Assessment Scheme and also urged them to sign up to the Health and Safety Executive’s new strategy: ‘Be Part of the Solution’.     

Next to the floor was Roseanne Hayward, general manager of the Mineral Products Qualifications Council (MPQC), the newly formed operating company that replaces EPIC Training & Consulting Services Ltd and EMP Awarding Body Ltd. Roseanne explained the reasons behind the change and outlined the function of the MPQC’s two operating divisions – the Awarding Body and the Skills Centre. Alongside the current N/SVQs and vocationally related qualifications, the Awarding Body will design, develop and offer a wider range of qualifications and accreditation services to the extractive and mineral-processing industries, ensuring that training provision is of the highest quality and meets the current and future needs of employers. The Skills Centre is an accredited centre for N/SVQs as well as providing a portal for funding and offering a general organizational service for accredited training provision.

‘E-learning for Quarrying – The Way Ahead’ was the theme of the next presentation by Julian Smallshaw, e-learning project manager with the Institute of Quarrying. Reiterating the need for competence in the quarrying industry, Julian outlined the changing nature of industry education, focusing, in particular, on the work the Institute is doing with the University of Derby on the Diploma in Quarry Technology. He explained the latest developments in the e-learning process, such as the use of graphical illustrations to replace textural explanations, as well as video, animation and audio technologies to improve and enhance the learning process. Julian also mentioned other projects currently being developed, including a proposed International Certificate in Quarry Operations and the use of Second Life software to create a 3D virtual quarry, where University of Derby students will soon be able to undergo various tailored training scenarios and hazard-recognition exercises in a totally risk-free environment.         

A 50-year project to create a network of clean water ponds for freshwater wildlife was the theme of the next presentation by Jeremy Biggs, director of Pond Conservation. The Million Ponds Project aims to reverse a century of loss and decline in Britain’s ponds by creating new clean water habitats in landscapes where they are now rare. Mr Biggs explained how, in the next four years alone, the project partners and others will establish a network of 5,000 ponds across England and Wales, and he called upon major landowners and land managers, including the aggregates industry, to play a part in the project. Indeed, the BAA has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Pond Conservation, under which the Association will encourage its members to identify opportunities, carry out pond creation and contribute data to the project. For their part, Pond Conservation will offer project participants best-practice information on all aspects of pond creation, as well as related training and guidance.

Next to take the floor was Paul Allison, director of Sherburn Stone, who gave a brief insight into the development of the new school and college diplomas for students in the 14–19-year-old age group. Seventeen of these new qualifications are to be phased in by 2011, and Mr Allison called on BAA members to offer to assist their local education authorities in developing the diplomas, particularly in the field of Manufacturing and Product Design. Such assistance, he said, would  help ensure the qualifications deliver a productive workforce with the knowledge and skills the industry needs. His own company, for example, is planning to get involved by writing and producing work-based projects for schools, sending some of its staff to talk to pupils in the classroom, developing remote learning facilities (eg web-cameras in quarries) and providing work-experience placements for teachers. Without input from the industry, Mr Allison said he believed the diplomas would be organized and run in such a way that they would be unlikely to meet the requirements and expectations of the quarry sector.

Julian Clapp, head of BDS Market Research, spoke next to give members his views on the state of the current market and the industry’s prospects for the future. He began by highlighting some of the differences between local and national markets, and made the point that there appears to be no useful correlation between economic growth and aggregate demand. In terms of growth markets, he pointed to the M25 widening and other major road schemes, Crossrail and rail in general, the 2012 Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games, but he warned members to avoid anything that is publicly financed which is not already committed. In summary, Mr Clapp said he expected most markets to improve in 2010, but that recovery back to 2007 levels should not be expected for many years. Nevertheless, he urged members to continue developing their businesses, to form alliances with other companies in order to keep purchasing costs down and take advantage of any fire sales, and to aim for the best customer service locally.

The challenges and hazards of Local Development Frameworks (LDFs) was the theme of the next presentation by planning consultants Simon Heaton and Chris Smith of Heaton Planning. They explained how LDFs will provide planning policy for the next 15–20 years, and how members will need to promote any future areas of development and protect against overly restrictive policies/designations. They also warned that because the system is front-loaded, engagement in the process from an early stage is crucial otherwise the ability to participate may be lost. Moreover, representations at the submission stage will need to be detailed, robust and supported with credible evidence, as the system is reliant on the approach and performance of the Planning Inspector, who, in turn, is reliant on the evidence and representations put before him or her. Late objections, they said, would carry little weight under the LDF system.

The final presentation of the afternoon was by Charlotte Danvers, landfill team leader, National Technical Services, Environment Agency, who talked about implementation of the EU Mining Waste Directive (MWD). She began by outlining the objectives and scope of the Directive, and its various exclusions, before going on to explain the differences between mining waste operations and mining waste facilities. She also commented on the contentious issue of inert waste classification, as well as the elements that need to be covered in a Waste Management Plan and the need for periodic reviews of such plans. Charlotte concluded by setting out the likely timetable of events and key dates in the implementation of the MWD, as well as providing members with advice on what they need to do to prepare for the Directive and who they should contact for further information.

Throughout the day, delegates attending the seminar also had the opportunity to visit the adjacent exhibition stands explaining and promoting the work of, among others, the Carbon Trust, Environment Agency, Heaton Planning, Institute of Quarrying, Million Ponds Project, MPQC, MIRO, RSPB/Natural England, Proskills, Pulse Energy and WRAP.

The BAA’s 2010 annual general meeting, conference and dinner event is scheduled take place on Monday 21 June, once again at the Palace Hotel, in Buxton, Derbyshire.

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