Mining Tragedy Results in Record High Fine for BHP

19 February 2018

The death of a worker in an unsupported mine has seen BHP hit with a record South Australian Work Health and Safety fine of $390,000, and also ordered to pay $80,000 in compensation to the worker’s family.

Background

The worker was killed by falling rocks after operating a drilling machine in an underground mine. Two slabs of rock, weighing approximately 1300kg combined, fell on the worker and caused fatal head, chest and shoulder injuries. The worker had attempted to change drill bits less than a metre away from the unsupported face when he was killed.

Findings

BHP pled guilty to failing to provide and maintain adequate and documented procedure regarding the operation of such machinery where drilling at unsupported rock. The South Australian Employment Tribunal heard that BHP’s ground control management plan did not require support to be installed at development faces. The failure to do so amounted to a breach of section 19 and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA).
SafeWork South Australia stated that it was reasonably practical for BHP to require operators to change drill bits further than two meters away from unsupported rock faces.
BHP conceded that it had not ensured compliance with Work Health and Safety obligations, and had not done all that was reasonably practicable to protect the worker from the risk of falling rocks.
In his finding, the deputy President imposed a notional fine of $650,000, but reduced this by 40% to $390,000 after taking into account the money already paid to the family by BHP and its acceptance of compensation orders. The maximum available penalty was $1.5 million.

Lessons for Employers

Primarily, this case reinforces the various safety obligations on employers where such manual work is involved. Machinery operation and mining, in particular, have historically proven to be areas of great risk, and correspondingly require greater care to ensure safety. The implementation of, and adherence to, procedural requirements is vital in this space.
The ultimate penalties and BHP’s response also highlights the best course of action to take if such an horrific accident does occur. Where liability is likely to be found, it can be better to take an approach which focusses on responsibility and reparation rather than denial.
Hentys Lawyers are experts in risk assessment, prevention and response where Occupational Health and Safety, and wider Workplace Law matters are concerned. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any concerns.