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Tunnelling work includes constructing a tunnel and supporting systems and associated temporary work.

  • A tunnel is defined in the model WHS Regulations as an underground passage or opening that is approximately horizontal and starts at ground level or at an excavation.
  • A supporting system is something that is necessary to build the tunnel, for example a ventilation system.

Risks associated with tunnelling

There are a range of health and safety risks associated with tunnelling work, including:

  • build-up of gas and fumes in confined spaces
  • rock falls
  • heat stress.

Managing the risks

You should try to reduce or eliminate risks associated with tunnelling work during the planning stage before work starts, and in consultation with all those who are relevant to the work, for example the principal contractor, structural engineers and mobile plant operators.

  • Risk management planning at the start of a tunnelling project is critical to preventing deaths caused by tunnelling work.

During this stage you need to identify hazards, assess risks and work out appropriate control measures.

If risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls, so far as is reasonably practicable.

  • For example, implementing work and rest regimes and encouraging the physical fitness and general health of workers. Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable PPE, such as hard hats, steel cap boots and high visibility vests.

Important information

A licence is required to carry out some tunnelling work, for example if it involves explosives.

Further advice

SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about tunnelling work. If you need help, please contact your work health and safety authority.

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