COAL mines, whether they are underground or open-cut, are inherently dangerous places to work.
A greater emphasis on worker safety has helped drive down accident rates, but there are variations from mine to mine, and not all accidents are officially reported.
Industry employees will tend to know what is happening, safety-wise, in their particular pits. From the outside, however, it can be difficult to form an objective view, when it is only the more serious incidents, where someone is killed or seriously injured, that attract the public's attention.
One of these was the refuelling incident at Mount Arthur open-cut on August 10, 2017 - two years ago tomorrow - in which a high-pressure hose came free, spraying diesel that ignited in the heat of the truck engine bay. The tyre-fitter filling the tank needed skin grafts to repair serious burns to his head, torso and arms.
Another is this week's upended dump truck at the same mine, although this appears to have made it into the public sphere thanks to an anonymous photograph.
On the refuelling incident, the state government's Resources Regulator has decided against prosecuting BHP under the Work Health and Safety Act, accepting instead an "enforceable undertaking" that will cost the company just over $1 million without an "admission of guilt".
Muswellbrook Council was quick out of the blocks to criticise the regulator, saying its handling of the matter left "a real suspicion" of "regulatory capture". For its part, the regulator indicates that it has followed the appropriate departmental guidelines in deciding not to go to court. While the regulator notes that Mount Arthur has no prior convictions under the WHS Act, the council wants other "criminal and statutory" offences - presumably a reference to Mount Arthur's environmental record - taken into consideration, and BHP's mining licence handed to someone else.
It is difficult to see this happen, if only because the regulator is still pursuing court action against the mine's truck fleet tyre manager, Downer EDI subsidiary Otraco, making it too early to say whether the regulator has reasonably balanced the competing interests involved. There may well be more than the usual attention paid to this prosecution, which has its first mention in the District Court on September 16.
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