OPINION: Let’s make 2023 a year of justice for miners

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A spate of dangerous dozer rollovers at the end of January means that the Queensland coal industry is again starting off the year with a focus on risks to workers and the need to improve safety management. 

A worker at Saraji suffered serious internal injuries after his dozer rolled several meters. At Curragh, a dozer backed off a bench into a body of water – thankfully the operator was not seriously injured, although the consequences could have been disastrous.

At Moorvale, an operator was trapped inside the cab of a rolled dozer for eight hours, until he was thankfully and miraculously rescued alive. It’s hard to imagine the terror he must have felt for those long eight hours and the long-term effect it will have. Another dozer rollover occurred just days later at Moranbah North.

Our Industry Safety and Health Representatives are investigating each of these events and have issued an industry safety alert, outlining the steps that must be applied at mine sites to improve safety where dozers are working in proximity to edges, voids and bodies of water.

Where multiple incidents occur with similar features, it’s a sign there needs to be a change in industry systems.

I believe one issue is that companies are pushing workers through training too quickly, leaving inexperienced workers operating these massive machines and putting them at risk if things go wrong. This trend combines with a lack of rigorous safety management around edges and voids, especially at night to result in serious accidents. With prices as high as they are, companies don’t want to lose any opportunity to produce coal and this can lead to corners being cut.

Another systemic failure we have seen across our industry, is the failure of accountability for serious workplace disasters where people are killed.

Just before Christmas we saw the latest instalment in the debacle over the attempted prosecution of Carborough Downs management over the death of Brad Duxbury in 2019. Charges were originally filed in the wrong court, which has meant the case has been bogged down in jurisdictional arguments rather than understanding and addressing the circumstances regarding Brad’s tragic death.

Unfortunately, this is just one of a series of failures of justice for killed and injured miners. No charges were laid against Anglo over the horrific explosion at Grosvenor in May 2020. No charges have been laid over the death of Graham Dawson at Crinum mine in 2021. Charges were dropped in the matter of David Routledge, killed at Middlemount mine in 2019. Charges were lodged but later withdrawn over the death of Donald Rabbitt at Curragh mine in 2020. No charges have been laid over the death of Gavin Feltwell at Moranbah North in 2022. And the family of Bradley Hardwick, killed at Moranbah North mine in 2019 is still waiting for justice.

We celebrated a victory when Queensland’s industrial manslaughter laws were extended to cover the mining industry in 2020. However, these laws are only valuable if there is an appetite by our regulators and political representatives to use them.

At the moment, mining communities are feeling let down that as workers are killed and injured, companies and executives don’t appear to be facing consequences.

That’s why we are launching our Justice for Miners campaign. We are calling on the responsible Ministers to hold the regulator and workplace health and safety prosecutor to account for delivering justice for killed and injured miners. We hope you’ll add your voice at JusticeForMiners.com.au.

Stephen Smyth

Mining and Energy Union Queensland District President

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