Mining giant BHP has argued against certain new laws proposed for the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act.
Mining giant BHP has argued against certain new laws proposed for the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act.

Push to shield mine supervisors from industrial manslaughter

A MINING giant is pushing for senior onsite staff to be exempt from industrial manslaughter charges over proposed laws designed to strengthen safety in the resources sector.

BHP has argued the legislation as is could result in decreased transparency from mine staff, undermining the overall safety culture across the coal mining industry.

But the union has slammed the move as a "mockery" and just the industry heavyweight trying to shield high ranking mine staff from liability in any future mine deaths.

This comes a week after a coronial inquest in Mackay explored how mine death prosecutions should be handled on the back of eight fatalities in CQ mines over 20 months.

The image of a mine lamp and a pick axe draped in a black ribbon has been used by fellow workers to symbolise solidarity after the death of a miner.
The image of a mine lamp and a pick axe draped in a black ribbon has been used by fellow workers to symbolise solidarity after the death of a miner.

BHP lodged a formal submission to state parliament over the new Mineral and Energy Resources and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 with a key recommendation that senior site executives and those reporting to them be expressly excluded from the industrial manslaughter offence.

If the bill is passed in its current form senior officers and corporations could be tried for industrial manslaughter under the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act if criminal negligence is proven in a workers' death.

BHP's submissions state the introduction of an industrial manslaughter offence that did not expressly exclude SSEs and those reporting to them would likely have a negative effect on senior staff who already worked within good safety systems and undermine any work already done to make the industry safer.

"Our SSEs are concerned that they could be captured by the industrial manslaughter offence and become a target one the new laws commence and be punished despite their best efforts and overwhelming commitment to mine site safety," the submission states.

Coal mine in Central Queensland. Photographer: Jodie Richter.
Coal mine in Central Queensland. Photographer: Jodie Richter.

BHP further stated if the industrial manslaughter offences became law without expressly excluding SSEs and those reporting to them "the anxiety held by SSEs could force the prioritisation of legally defensive behaviours".

"This could, for example, lead to a decreased willingness to be proactive and transparent with safety information," the submissions states.

In an email to sent out to staff BHP Mitsubishi Alliance coal asset presidents James Palmer and Elsabe Muller said the company supported initiative to improve health and safety outcomes, but was "not convinced this new legislation will deliver a safety 'step change' for our industry".

BHP is also pushing for blanket immunity for SSEs over any records or documents used to compile a report following a fatal, serious, or high-risk incident.

At the moment the actual report, which is forwarded to the Inspectorate, is not admissible as evidence against an SSE or person name, but immunity does not apply to material created during the investigation.

BHP has also recommended staff should be able to claim privilege against self-incrimination in all investigations of deaths.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland president Stephen Smyth
CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland president Stephen Smyth

CFMEU Mining and Energy president Stephen Smyth said BHP "is showing its true colours" by trying to protect its most senior site managers from accountability.

"Senior Site Executives and those who report to them are the ultimate decision-makers on a mine site. They are the ones who make the call about what happens and how things are done," Mr Smyth said.

"Excluding them from industrial manslaughter laws would make a mockery of leadership accountability on mine safety.

"If fatalities occur because corners are cut in the drive for production then the most senior leader should absolutely be held accountable."

BHP also argued the industrial manslaughter offence could make the SSE role undesirable resulting in a less skilled workforce at that higher level.

BHP declined to comment but said on March 3 company representatives would argue the recommendations to the committee overseeing the Bill in person.


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