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$238,000 fine over Pilbara mine death

BHP Billiton and HWE Newman Services (HWE) were collectively handed a total of $238,000 in fines at Perth Magistrate’s Court on 24 October, in relation to the death of a Pilbara mining worker nearly five years ago.

In August 2008, Paul Sparkes died at BHP Billiton’s Yandi Mine near Newman, then operated by HWE.

The mobile maintenance supervisor was fatally struck when an arm of a tyre handler device sprung off as a heavy earth mover tyre was overinflated.

Both companies were found guilty of failing to provide a safe working environment in April 2013, following a thorough investigation and prosecution led by the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP).

The court heard that BHP and HWE both failed to provide the necessary equipment for safe tyre assembly, and that Mr Sparkes did not receive sufficient training for the task.

In sentencing remarks, Magistrate Steven Malley said that while there was not a blatant disregard in relation to safety “there was a systems failure with dire consequences”.

DMP Resources Safety Executive Director Simon Ridge said while he welcomed this successful prosecution, the department would not rest on its laurels.

“The majority of mining companies are operating to high safety standards right now – but there are always some occasions where more needs to be done, and this was certainly a tragic event back in 2008,” Mr Ridge said.

“That is why it is crucial for the department to continue to hold to account those who aren’t doing the right thing.

Mr Ridge said, through the introduction of safety reforms in 2010, and a commitment from operators to adopt resilient safety cultures, he hoped future tragedies like the death of Mr Sparkes could be avoided.

“While mining activities can pose risk, mining workers should not be placed in harm’s way, it is completely unacceptable,” he said.

“Measures must always be in place to reduce risks to an acceptable level.

“It is up to all of us – companies, government and workers – to work together to achieve ‘zero harm’.”

BHP was fined $102,000 and HWE was fined $136,000. Both companies also had to pay a total of $125,000 in court costs.

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