LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
As we go to press, once again we are witnessing another apparent heating or potential fire in a Queensland mine. Anglo American’s Moranbah North mine was evacuated following high levels of ethylene detected in the goaf.
While the cause of the heating or fire is not well known, it is clear that the conditions existed within the mine that propagated the heating. Anglo have acted responsibly by withdrawing miners but…questions must be asked why the mine got to a stage where ethylene was able to be detected in significant quantities. Why and how did this occur when we seemingly have the best technology and competent people in the industry. I do wonder are we normalising conditions and accepting that heatings are a part of underground mining.
This last event follows and underground explosion at Grosvenor mine and Peabody Energy’s North Goonyella fire which saw the mining operations cease, hundreds of people lose their jobs and the Queensland State Government forfeit hundreds of millions of future royalties from the mining operation.
I am wondering if the ‘Safety Reset” in the Queensland industry has worked. I am wondering if its not time to coin a new catch phrase in Queensland mine safety…lets call it a ‘safety reboot.’
This time we can have a website of images of a ‘boot’ kicking a miner up the arse for failing to implement safety checks in industry. How about blaming mine managers or ventilation officer for failure to “reboot the safety system?”
While it may seem a little tongue in cheek, the seriousness of the situation cannot be understated. Queensland mine workers are being placed in harm’s way and we haven’t solved the problem. In fact, organisations like the Queensland Government have obstructed judicial processes to get to the bottom of why we are failing to manage aspects of mine safety in the state.
In February, retired District Court Judge Terry Martin SC took a swipe at the Queensland Government for failing to implement legislative provisions that allowed an inquiry to examine evidence of witnesses from Anglo American.
Mr Martin had written to Former Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lynham in August last year seeking action from the Government in respect of calling witnesses. In December Mr Martin said “The board has already clearly stated that in the absence of the power to compel witnesses to provide all relevant evidence … the board’s capacity to inquire into the serious accident at Grosvenor mine is seriously compromised.”
The inquiry Board sought legislative changes to compel witness from Anglo American and others in respect of inquiries such that they could actually examine all the evidence in respect of the evidence. Without these powers the Board of Inquiry is effectively hamstrung.
They weren’t forthcoming…meaning that the Board now has been neutered by the Queensland Government.
Mr Martin fired back releasing a statement “The board requested an amendment to the legislation such that while a witness’s right to claim privilege against self-incrimination is maintained, the board has the power to compel the witness to provide all relevant evidence in public at the inquiry,” the statement said.
“The board has not heard that the request has been progressed.”
Speaking publicly to the Australian Mr Martin later stated “From an investigation standpoint, the board’s view is that the absence of the requested amendment would be less than ideal. Notwithstanding, the inquiry into the serious accident will be thorough and productive.”
Queensland’s new mine safety minister Scott Stewart responded…“I have been in frequent discussions with the board about their request,” Mr Stewart said.
“In assessing the request, the government must weigh up a number of factors including persons’ legal rights; the impact it may have on future prosecutions; and the ability of the board to do its work.”
What it all boils down to is that the Board of Inquiry really doesn’t have the power it needs to thoroughly investigate the issues before it. The Queensland Government wants to keep it that way. Far be it that the Board of Inquiry might actually be able to do its job and compel those whose fingerprints are all over the evidence.
But alas…it was always going to be that way. The inquiry, in my perspective, was a typical Government response to mounting pressure and criticism in the way it has handled mining safety in the State. It was the “Get out of Gaol Free” card that was so eloquently played pre-election.
The power to compel witnesses to this Board of Inquiry (or any future Board of Inquiry) is fundamental to justice and the improvement of mining safety practices and regulations. The neutering of this Board is just one of many mine safety travesties playing out in Queensland.
In this edition, we talk explore leadership and its impacts on mining safety. We hear perspectives on the impact of vaccines at work and we provide some of the latest information on mining projects around the country. Our contributors have provided us with some of the latest product innovations on mining safety. We hope you enjoy!
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