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Mining giants sued for endangering employees

Goonyella Riverside Mine
Goonyella Riverside Mine

Two resources multinationals were litigated over serious workplace concerns.

BHP Coal was recently sued for allegedly failing to manage occupational health and safety risks at the Goonyella Riverside Coal Mine, 203km southwest of Mackay.

The Mining and Energy Union (MEU) claimed the employer took “adverse action” against outsourced worker Kim Star through demobilising her position and excluding her from the mine. Labour hire company WorkPac allegedly dismissed Star three days later. Her only crime was refusing to operate a truck in a “poorly-lit” area during 2017.

The Federal Court agreed with the Fair Work Commission’s earlier finding that the woman was unfairly dismissed, and should be reinstated despite BHP’s objections. The judge slammed the proponent for resorting to “unlawful adverse action” because the female would not work until vehicle safety concerns were resolved.

“When she refused to operate in unsafe conditions – as she has the legal right and the obligation to do – BHP said they did not want her anymore and WorkPac promptly sacked her,” MEU Queensland district president Stephen Smyth said in a public statement.

“Multinationals like BHP like using labour hire workers because they are easy to get rid of. They ultimately call the shots when it comes to employment arrangements on their mines … [and,] because she has stood up to BHP, it will now be much harder for them to treat their contractors as disposable labour.”

The remarks came during a separate legal dispute over Bradley Hardwick’s 2019 death at Anglo American’s Moranbah North Coal Mine, 211km southwest of Mackay.

The Brisbane Magistrates Court recently heard a 14-tonne grader allegedly crushed the victim to death due to a defective park brake. The 47-year-old had stopped the machine to collect water for engine cooling purposes. The grader rolled backwards a total of 270 metres before also crashing into a Driftrunner with 11 passengers. Three people reported injuries.

The prosecution, led by King’s Counsel Joshua Trevino, blamed Anglo for providing Hardwick with “unsafe” equipment, and failing to discharge health and safety obligations that resulted in death. One theory is the grader’s friction plates were “worn down”. The victim’s body also showed evidence of blunt force injuries, fractured ribs, and both heart and liver lacerations.

However, Anglo defence barrister Saul Holt claims the proponent followed all original equipment manufacturer (OEM) instructions then criticised the grader maker.

“The OEM behaved in what can only generously be described as gross negligence. This was far more than shambolic, this was in fact – as the evidence will demonstrate – the commission of obvious criminal offences by the OEM,” Holt said according to News Limited.

The company has since assessed the equipment’s risks, identified design faults, and stood down similar graders across its New South Wales operations.

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