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Mine worker fatality is part of a new accident wave says industry

BHP iron ore
BHP iron ore

A heavy vehicle striking and killing a resources employee is simply the beginning of more tragedies to come, an advocate warned.

Coworkers and loved ones are still reeling from the sudden loss of Jody Byrne who died after a BHP train collided with him at the Boodarie rail yard (13km southwest of Port Hedland) on 7 February 2023. However, an industry body predicts this devastating event could be the first of many workplace incidents due to employers prioritising productivity over preparation.

“It has been said for a long time that what happened on Tuesday may well be the start of an increase in incidents, unwanted incidents, because of people not being given the proper time to embed their training,” Mining and Energy Union (MEU) Western Australian organiser Warren Johncock said according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“It is all about production.”

Johncock accused BHP of inadequately consulting with staff before reaching a final decision then unreasonably imposing penalties after concerns were raised.

“People have had a gutful of being told what to do and not having any ability to question,” he said according to the broadcaster.

“If you do question those decisions, not every time but a lot of the time, you are deemed as not being a team player and it will cost you financially when it comes around to the bonus time.”

The remarks came as WorkSafe WA, the Office of National Rail Safety Regulator and WA Police Force examine what exactly caused the train accident.

“The worker was reported to have been struck by a locomotive and was confirmed as deceased at the scene. WorkSafe investigators will examine the circumstances of the incident with a view to ensuring compliance and preventing future incidents of a similar nature,” a WorkSafe spokesperson said in a public statement.

“WorkSafe commissioner Darren Kavanagh said any work-related death was a tragedy, and relayed his sincere condolences to the worker’s family and workmates.”

Meanwhile, MEU recently launched a new Justice for Miners campaign, which accuses the industry regulator and workplace health and safety prosecutor of failing to prosecute individuals and companies over incidents that killed and seriously injured mine workers.

“I am sick of sitting down with the families of members we have lost and trying to explain why no one has been held accountable. Grieving families and communities hear time and time again that no charges are laid, or charges are laid and dropped, or cases are indefinitely held up,” MEU Queensland district president Stephen Smyth said in a public statement.

“We want guidelines for prosecutions to be reviewed and to take into account the need for mining workers, families and communities to see justice being pursued over fatalities in their industry. When charges cannot be laid, or charges are dropped, we want the relevant authorities to provide a clear explanation.”

A BHP spokesperson confirmed its WA iron ore operations were suspended for 24 hours, allowing employees to “come together, support each other, reflect and refocus on safety”.

Byrne is survived by wife Maxine, their three children and four grandchildren.

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