The OHS obligations of global corporations

BHP Billiton has issued a media statement concerning the death of a miner, Gregory Goslett, at its coalmine in Khutala in South Africa.  Due to the number of deaths the company has had over the last two years, attention on any safety issue at BHP is intense.  BHP’s short statement reads:

“It is with deep regret and sadness that BHP Billiton announces a fatal incident at its Khutala Colliery opencast operations in South Africa. At approximately 05:02 am on Tuesday, 20 October 2009 Gregory Goslett (27), Mining Operations Supervisor, was fatally injured whilst driving a light vehicle at the mine.

An initial investigation indicates that Gregory was travelling in a light vehicle when a piece of coal fell from a loaded 25 ton haul truck travelling in the opposite direction. The piece of coal went through the windscreen of the light vehicle and struck Gregory causing fatal injuries to him.

The company is offering all comfort, assistance and support to Gregory’s fiancée Tarryn, his parents and those affected at the operations. Our thoughts are with Gregory’s family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.

Mining at the opencast area has been suspended and investigations are underway.”

The Age newspaper points out that

“The accident was of the type that BHP has previously moved to eliminate from its Pilbara iron ore mines in Western Australia after several deaths last year…..”

“A key safety change made by BHP in the Pilbara in response to last year’s run of fatal accidents was the improved management of the interaction of light vehicles with heavy vehicles.”

The circumstances of Goslett’s death illustrates the obligations, some would say challenges, that multi-jurisdictional corporations need to ensure that safety improvements are consistently applied across their workplaces, regardless of location or remoteness.

BHP Billiton has been tragically reminded of this but BHP is only one corporation in the global mining industry.  Safety solutions and initiatives must extend beyond jurisdictions, countries and commercial entities to each workplace where similar hazards exist.  (The oil refinery industry was reminded of this with the Texas City Refinery explosion) The communication and sharing of solutions is a crucial element of the safety profession around the world.

Kevin Jones

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