Coal inquiry concerns over manslaughter laws, corporate practices

The Coal Mining board of inquiry has claimed the Government’s new industrial manslaughter laws need refinement because it doesn’t make clear who is liable.

Dec 18, 2020, updated Dec 18, 2020
Board of inquiry raises questions for Government and companies

Board of inquiry raises questions for Government and companies

In the first report from the board it also complained that it did not have power to compel a witness to provide all relevant evidence to the inquiry.

“Clearly enough, this seriously compromises the capacity of the board to inquire into the nature and cause of the serious accident and the probable causes of the methane exceedances at Grosvenor mine,’’ it said.

“The absence of this power will also likely limit the effectiveness of future boards of inquiry.

“Consequently, the board wrote to the Minister requesting that the Act be amended so that, whilst a witness’ right to claim privilege to self-incrimination is maintained, the board also has the power to compel the witness to provide all relevant evidence in public to the Inquiry.’’

The inquiry is yet to hear evidence on the Grovenor incident, in which five miners were seriously burned, but it was critical of some of the practices of mining companies.

“Whilst the operational practices and management systems in existence at each of Oaky North, Moranbah North and Grasstree mines, and the corporate levels above them, were generally adequate and effective to achieve compliance with the relevant safety laws and standards in respect of methane exceedances, several points should be made: the potential consequence of the methane exceedances was not properly identified at any of the mines, in that there was a failure to recognise that each had the potential to result in an outcome with a level 4 or 5 consequence rating,’’ the report said.

“Neither Anglo American’s nor Glencore’s incident classification system aligns with the definition of a high potential incident in the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld).’’

It said Anglo’s use of a classification system created a sub-class of High Potential Incident that may have a tendency to diminish the perception of the seriousness of the events.’’

It was also critical of the Government and said the Coal Mining Inspectorate continually struggled to attract and retain inspectors, “in large part because of the lower levels of remuneration for inspectors’’

In relation to industrial manslaughter laws it said its interpretation of the definition of employer is correct, the amendments to the Act may not reflect Parliament’s intention as to who should be liable to prosecution.

The new Mines Minister Scott Stewart said he looked forward to receiving the board’s final report and findings and recommendations for improving the safety of Queensland’s coal mine workers.

Anglo American, owner of the Grosvenor mine, said it was continuing to respond to the incident, including through investing in the acceleration of technology to improve safety in underground mining.

Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business chief executive Tyler Mitchelson said during the past six months the company had looked at every aspect of the management of risk in its underground mines and started a range of work to accelerate technology solutions, particularly automation and remote operation.

“Removing people from potential harm offers the greatest opportunity to materially improve safety in underground coal mining,” he said.

“As the largest underground metallurgical coal miner in Australia, we will continue to leverage our scale to find new ways of addressing safety risks, drawing on international best practice and technology development.

“We have proactively responded to learnings from the Grosvenor incident and the Board of Inquiry and have a significant body of work underway across our underground mines.”

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