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Protecting your mine from illegal prospecting

Since the 1890s goldrush, illegal prospecting has been a big issue in the WA

Goldfields.


Thousands of people have travelled far and wide to the region to try their luck at

unearthing an elusive golden nugget.


But in many cases, prospectors are acting unlawfully not following correct

procedures or licenses, and knowingly entering private property without permission.


From a mining company’s perspective, no miner wants to find out individuals or

groups have been entering their property and digging up precious resources they

own.


But the problem is, mining tenements often stretch hundreds of kilometres, making it

quite difficult to police who is entering your site at any given time.


As a specialist security provider to the mining industry, we’ve heard our customers

frustrations with illegal prospectors first-hand.


We understand it’s bad for your bottom line, and also the vast risks it has on the

environment, and public safety hazards if incidents occur on site.


This is why we wanted to share a blog on this topic to provide further insight into this

issue, the laws and regulations currently in place, and, of course, the importance of

security and risk management measures to safeguard your tenements.


But first, let’s provide a little refresher on the difference between ‘prospecting’ and

‘fossicking’, which are often used interchangeably, but have different meanings.


In the Mining Act 1978, ‘fossicking’ is referred to as the collection of mineral samples

or specimens, other than gold or diamonds, for the purpose of a mineral collection,

lapidary work or hobby interest.


While in contrast, the term ‘prospecting’ covers the search for all minerals including

the use of metal detectors.


Prospecting laws in WA


Prospecting laws in Western Australia are governed by the Mining Act 1978.


These acts outline the rules that prospectors must follow, including obtaining the

appropriate licenses and permits, adhering to environmental regulations, and

respecting private landowners' rights.


If the correct rules and regulations are followed and approvals are granted,

individuals can prospect on:


  •  Unallocated or vacant Crown land not under a granted mining tenement, Crown land that’s subject of a pastoral lease

  •  A lease for grazing and timber and is not covered by a granted mining tenement (with adequate notice to the lessee)

  •  Granted exploration licenses under a Section 40E Permit

  •  Mining tenements where written permission and approvals are received from the tenement holder.

Prospectors must first obtain a Miner's Right to prospect on Crown land (land owned

by the government). This license allows the holder to search for minerals on the land

but does not grant the right to mine.


There are three common complaints regarding illegal prospecting, and these include

prospectors mining outside approved tenements, prospecting on tenements without

approval or prospecting on Crown land without a Miner’s Right.


These offences can have a hefty penalty of up to $150,000 for individuals and a

further $15,000 for each day the offence continues, and a whopping $300,000

penalty for body corporates.


How does one report and ensure illegal prospectors are charged?


According to the Department of Mines, a police officer or DMIRS Authorised Officer

may “ask anyone fossicking or prospecting to produce evidence of their entitlement

to be on that land. They may also require the person to provide an explanation about

their fossicking or prospecting activities.”


A DMIRS or police officer has the rights to direct a person to cease mining and use

necessary force to remove them from the site, and even arrest a person who doesn’t

comply to the order.


If you suspect there is illegal prospecting activity happening at your mining

tenements, we encourage you to report this immediately to The Department of

Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, which investigates allegations of

unauthorised mining activity.


On its website it states: “To respond effectively to complaints, it is essential to report

the incident promptly (within a few hours or days of the incident occurring or being

detected), and to include as many details as requested below”.


These details included the precise location of the activity using GPS coordinates if

possible, photographs or video evidence, the time and date, any vehicle details such

as a description or number plates, the tenement numbers and your contact details

for follow-up.


There are many cases where illegal prospectors have been held accountable to their

crimes.


In 2017, Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s Gold Stealing Detection Unit charged two men from

interstate for entering a mining lease near Leonora on several occasions and

extracting gold.


In 2020, a French tourist was fined $5000 for prospecting in the Shire of Leonora too

without a valid permit.


These are just a few examples of recent cases highlighting the seriousness of the

issue and the need for enforcement of prospecting laws and improved security plans

for operations.


How to best protect your site & resources


To best protect your mining sites and tenements, the first step is conducting an audit

of existing policies and making any necessary improvements to your risk

management measures on site.


Next steps might include:

  •  Hiring security personnel to patrol the site

  •  Installing security cameras and alarms

  •  Implementing access control measures to restrict entry to the site

  •  Drone patrols

  •  Upgrading fencing on the tenements’ perimeter

In addition to these measures, mining companies can also engage with the local

community to build positive relationships and education to reduce the risk of illegal

prospecting.


By working with the community, mining companies can raise awareness of the issue

and encourage people to report any suspicious activity, and be aware of the

significant fines they do face even if they unknowingly prospect on land they

shouldn’t be on.


It is also important for mining companies to educate their employees on the risks of

illegal prospecting to the operation, signs to look out for, and clear steps to take in

the event they do spot illegal prospectors on site.


Assessing your operational risks and putting the correct documentation, policies and

procedures in place, and subsequent measures to mitigate them, will put your

company in the best possible position to mitigate this risk.



Outsourcing security to experienced professionals


At Goldfields Security Services, we have a special interest in the mining industry and

have experience working with mines in our local area to protect their site, people,

assets, and their minerals and resources.


If you have any questions about how we can improve security at your operation or

would like to discuss this further, we’d love to hear from you.


Call us on 0404 449 326 or email info@goldfieldssecurityservices.com.au.

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