“a truck plunged 18 metres down a shaft at the Perseverance nickel mine near Leinster.”
Newspapers on 13 April 2010 have provided further details. The 45-year old man, Wayne Ross, was operating a “bogger” at the time. A profile of a bogger operator is available HERE. which reads
“Being a Bogger Operator is a very physically demanding job. You need to operate heavy excavators in dark damp conditions, however you will be well rewarded for this. Some Bogger operators can earn around $80,000 a year.”
The Leinster mine has been the site of several deaths since 2006. Four workers have died on BHP Billiton mine sites since July 2009.
The Age reports that the bogger the worker “was driving fell almost 20 metres down the mine shaft” and it took around 18 hours to retrieve his body.
[SafetyAtWorkBlog has written several posts on BHP Billiton’s poor safety record. These can be accessed by searching for “Billiton” in the search function on this page.]
“This latest incident is extremely disappointing given previous efforts to address safety issues at this mine,” he said. “I am aware of the genuine bid by BHP Billiton to improve its record in this area, but even a single death in a mine is one death too many.”
The Minister mentioned nickel deposits near Leinster in his 1977 inaugural speech to Parliament as his electorate covers major mining deposits so his industrial memory is profound.
Government safety measures in the mining industry announced in September 2009 included:
- “Significant additional resources for the Resources Safety Division of the DMP, including more money to increase compliance activities by DMP inspectors
- An industry cost recovery model which increases the onus on companies to ensure worker safety. New South Wales and Queensland are States which have already adopted cost recovery models
- A new approach to safety management based on evidence and risk, and focused on reducing the likelihood of a serious incident.”
BHP Billiton, in April 2009, guaranteed to
- “Reduce site access;
- Improve contractor management;
- Enhance existing strategies to prevent excess working hours;
- Move rail operations from the Mine Safety and Inspection Act to the Rail Safety Act;
- Enhance traffic management standards, and;
- Suspend all non-essential work outside daylight hours”
According to a report in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) (not available online), Gary Wood of the CFMEU has said that
“There’s a systemic problem within the mining industry and that needs to be addressed.”
Systemic problems cannot be improved easily or quickly.
Stephen Price of the Australian Workers Union has called on the West Australian government to release details of its investigations into the incidents that occurred at the Leinster Mine in 2009 in order to further the cultural change required:
”We need more transparent and public accountability if the resource sector is to work together to build a safe work culture, …. The company should stop fighting its union workers, and look to build a more co-operative culture if we are to ensure that workers can return home safely to their families after their shift ends.”
“Countless reviews and inquiries into mine safety have not had the intended result to improve overall safety … Working in the resource sector is still a risky business for workers and a Royal Commission is the only way forward to show what is really happening in WA’s resource sector.”
Ripper’s call for a Royal Commission seems unlikely (and is easy from Opposition) and his link to the Piper Alpha investigation is a bit tenuous however, if the number of mining deaths in Western Australia over the last five to ten years are collated, the total death count may justify such a call.
Being a financial newspaper The AFR looked at the share price context and reports an anonymous shareholder as saying BHP Billiton should sell the Leinster operation:
“It is a relatively short life asset, with a poor safety record, that would probably be better run and achieve better returns for another party.”
From video and other media statements BHP is making an effort on safety but BHP Billiton has been in this industry for decades, is proud of its production record and takes pride in its global corporate status. The safety record is another case entirely.