Tragic fatality a wake-up call for safety at BHP coal mines

Published: 4 Jan 2019

The tragic death of mineworker Allan Houston at BHP Coal’s Saraji mine in Central Queensland must trigger a safety ‘reset’ across all of BHP’s Central Queensland coal mines, the CFMEU said today.

CFMEU Mining and Energy is calling on BHP to provide information to its workforce on areas of concern at all seven mines operating under the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance: Goonyella Riverside, Broadmeadow, Daunia, Peak Downs, Saraji, Blackwater and Caval Ridge.

“We are concerned that safety incidents on BHP mines are not leading to an adequate review of operating procedures, neither at the site the incident occurred nor across BHP’s network of mines,” said CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland President Stephen Smyth.

“BHP has thousands of lives in its hands every day across its Central Queensland coal mines.

“We are aware that Allan’s death has followed a number of near misses. In the wake of this week’s shocking fatality, workers are looking for greater reassurance that the company’s rhetoric about safety is being matched by action.”

Areas that the CFMEU is seeking further information from BHP include:

Emergency response capability: How does the company ensure they have an effective and efficient emergency response capability which includes not just the necessary skills but understanding of the areas fo the mine they are responsible for – especially now that the emergency response function has been contracted out. In the case of Allan Houston, it took 90 minutes for the emergency response team to reach him.

Access and egress into work areas: Has the company ensured that all workplaces and locations have both safe access and egress into their workplace/locations? Movement around work sites is critical, especially in the inherently dangerous conditions of a coal mine with massive machinery, water and operation throughout the night.

Review of dozer operations: Has the company reviewed all its dozer operations on site for fit-for-purpose equipment, supervision and standard operating procedures?

The CFMEU is aware of a number of vehicle rollovers at BHP mine sites over the past year, similar in nature to the incident that caused Allan Houston’s death, including a near drowning from dozer rollover just six months ago. They include:

  • In July 2018 at Peak Downs mine, a worker operating a dozer fell into a deep hole, which he was not warned about. He had very cold water up to his shoulders, could not get out and was trapped there in the dark for over half an hour, until work mates were able to rescue him. He thought he was going to die.
  • A similar incident occurred approximately 12 months beforehand at Peak Downs.
  • At Saraji in August 2018, a worker was operating a service truck which rolled due to watering of the haul road, which he was not warned about.
  • This incident followed two other vehicle roll overs at Saraji in the three months prior.

In addition to operational safety concerns, the CFMEU has had reports from members disappointed about the response to this week’s fatality from mine management across BHP sites, which was inconsistent and in many cases did not reflect the seriousness of the event and the concern of workers.

A message from one worker at a BMA site to the Union said:

Another worker killed on a BMA site in 15 months and they just do a 2 minute pre start in the main room with everyone and then go out to your on strips with your own supervisors. No whole crew safety reset with senior management bloody joke.

The CFMEU will not let Allan Houston’s death be in vain, said Mr Smyth.

“This is an opportunity to review and reset the whole safety culture on BHP sites. That includes not only the way we work, but the treatment of workers who raise safety issues and make compensation claims. This is what CFMEU members will be standing up for.”