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Goonyella officials blocked from delaying competency cancellation

Peabody Energy mine
Peabody Energy mine

Former workers cannot postpone enforcement action over a coal mine disaster in Central Queensland’s Isaac region.

Resources Safety and Health Queensland (RSHQ) recently blocked a request to stay a decision about two former officials at Peabody Energy’s North Goonyella Coal Mine in Moranbah, 196km southwest of Mackay.

The pair’s competency certificates will be cancelled despite their ongoing appeal against the regulator’s judgment over an alleged underground fire back on 22 September 2018. This means they are unable to keep working in certain leadership roles until the certificates are restored.

“If granted, the stay would have allowed the former officials to continue to work in the safety-critical position of underground mine manager in a coal mine, until their appeals against the decisions are determined,” RSHQ said in a public statement.

Queensland Magistrate Mark Nolan agreed there was substantial evidence of “serious misconduct” that could have caused injury or death for anyone at the mine site.

“[Those officials] were responsible for the operation of the coal mine in circumstances where the health and safety of every other person, who worked at the coal mine, was dependent on doing their jobs according to the [Coal Mining Safety and Health] Act and regulations,” he said in his ruling.

RSHQ stressed the importance of maintaining “public confidence” in processes to keep coal mines safe.

“Mine workers depend on mine officials competently and conscientiously fulfilling the responsibilities the law places on them, [and] the court has clearly recognised this,” CEO Mark Stone said.

The remarks came three years after the proponent unsuccessfully dismissed a different lawsuit about whether former CEO Glenn Kellow, former chief financial officer Amy Schwetz and other executives failed to disclose the mine was “actually or likely” on fire.

Workers evacuated the mine site after carbon monoxide levels jumped at the longwall and black smoke was spotted “billowing” above the surface.

The regulator’s decision about former official conduct was still subject to appeal at the time of publication.

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AMSJ April 2022