I have spoken elsewhere of the non-release of Professor Michael Quinlan’s OHS report into the Beaconsfield mine. On 4 August 2008, he spoke at the coronial inquest into the death of Larry Knight. According to media reports, Professor Quinlan said about the rockfall that killed Larry Knight:
“I can’t say the event wouldn’t have occurred – I can say that the chances of it occurring would have been reduced… They are steps that should have been taken, in my view.”
He has also been very hot on the validity of risk assessment processes at workplace. As part of Melick report into the disaster, Melick used Quinlan’s report when writing
“As far as can be determined, the risk ranking of ground control was not reassessed or revised in the light of these (earlier rockfall) events…. The evidence indicates that the possibility of further significant seismic events in the mine in 915 and 925 metre levels was foreseeable.”
In December 2007, I interviewed Professor Quinlan about a range of OHS issues including major hazards. In the SafetyAtWork podcast, he said that some mines in Western Australia have begun to apply a safety case regime to safety because of the high-hazard nature of the workplace. At that time he supported such a move.
Quinlan pointed out, though, that safety case regulation is very resource-intensive and, therefore, only relative to large organisations and well-resourced regulators.
It is unlikely that such a combination could have been applied to the mine in Beaconsfield as Quinlan is reported as saying at the inquest that
“Workplace Standards Tasmania was under-resourced and [he] recommended the development of mine-specific safety laws and trade-union mine inspectors.”
Many submissions to the National OHS Law Review have mentioned the relevance of a safety case approach to OHS but only one of the currently available submissions mentions that the safety case approach could be applied to mines.