February 12, 2020
The Queensland Government is prosecuting BHP and one of its senior mine managers over the death of mineworker Allan Houston at Saraji mine on New Year’s Eve 2018.
The charges were laid as tragedy struck again in the Queensland coal industry with the death of tyre fitter Donald Rabbit at Curragh mine in January.
BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) senior executive Timothy Fuller has been charged with breaches of statutory health and safety obligations over the death.
Allan Houston died when his dozer rolled 18 metres off an embankment during his night shift, landing in a pool of mud and water and drowning him. Fuller has been charged, even though he had only been appointed weeks earlier, because he was responsible for all truck and shovel burden excavation activities and drill and blast activities.
Court documents filed at Mackay courthouse state that dragline preparation in the mine’s Bauhinia Pit involved up to three dozers at a time working on the bench. The documents say that no procedures were in place for dozer push bench preparation. The Mines Department also alleges BMA’s health and safety procedures for risk management and working in and around water were not implemented.
The Union is very concerned that procedures for working around water were not in place as there had been a close call at nearby Peak Downs mine just six months earlier. In July 2018, a dozer was operating in 700mm of water, before catching an object and falling into an unknown void. Water entered the dozer and the operator was unable to exit. He was rescued by workmates breaking the dozer windows, but left traumatised and injured.
BHP’s own ICAM report into the July incident found that there were no adequate controls and risk assessments in place for working in and around water and it was common practice for dozers to push coal in water. It also found there was a mandate to keep trucks running to meet production targets, rather than take the time to pump water.
Allan Houston’s death was even more tragic due to lessons not being learnt from the Peak Downs near miss, said Queensland President Stephen Smyth.
“We welcome the fact that BHP will be prosecuted over Allan’s death and the strong message it sends to the industry.”
“The coal industry has had a culture of production at any cost.
“If companies are going to change their behaviour and provide safe workplaces, then there needs to be real consequences for breaches of safety requirements.”
Just as Allan Houston’s death cast a pall over the start of 2019 for the mining industry, the tragic death of Donald Rabbit at Curragh mine has been a devastating start to 2020.
Donald, just 33, had nearly finished his shift on 12 January when he was crushed to death by equipment. CFMEU safety inspectors were quickly on the scene and will complete an independent investigation.
The Queensland coal industry has been shaken by six deaths in the last year.
As soon as parliament returned last week, the Queensland government introduced legislation extending industrial manslaughter laws to cover the mining industry.
Under industrial manslaughter laws – which are still to pass through parliament and are not in play in the current BHP prosecution – executives will face up to 20 years jail if a worker’s death is found to be the result of criminal negligence.
While the mining industry has fought hard against industrial manslaughter laws, the Union has fought harder to introduce them. Industrial manslaughter laws will act as a deterrent to the high tolerance of risk among mine operators and bring the industry in line with the rest of the workforce, said Stephen Smyth.
“It puts everyone on notice about the importance of workers going to work and coming home at the end of the day. Our members and their families welcome it.”