BHP Billiton has another mining fatality at Leinster mine

On 12 April 2010, the electronic media (video report available) reported a fatality at a BHP Billiton mine in Western Australia where

“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.]

The Western Australia mines Minister, Norman Moore, has taken a hard-line with BHP Billiton over its poor safety performance previously and in a media statement on 12 April 2010 stated:

“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.”

BHP Billiton is not receiving any sympathy from Opposition Labor politicians.  Eric Ripper is reported to have said:

“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.”

This seems an extraordinary criticism of the management of BHP Billiton but then BHP has been known to close projects when safety management becomes challenging, refer Boodarie briquette plant.

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.

Kevin Jones

8 thoughts on “BHP Billiton has another mining fatality at Leinster mine”

  1. i will tell you now no manager or company director will be sacked they will be just moved on to other jobs, off they will go into the sunset. as for b.h.p. being fined millions of dollars i dont think so.they pleaded guilty to my sons death in 2006 at leinster and were fined 50,000 dollars and because he was single and had no dependance that was it. i could go on and on about b.h.p. as far as i am concerend they are murders. from a grieving mother.

  2. It really depends on their (BHPB) changing attitude on safety and how they utilise their HSE members. Stop the, “it’s a contractor incident again” attitude, just because rules and policies are in place does not mean all is good.

    I am not convinced that contractors are to blame for high incidents and that having only direct hire would reduce the accident rate either. The person will be the same at the end of the day, if they wear a BHP logo or contractor logo.

    In one of my audits I found that the contractors were out-performing the client in productivity and safety, both in attitude and reporting. I do find that the HSE members and management teams for the client do not take kindly to contractors trying to “help” improve in safety. There is a great deal of them and us on sites and I have experience in mining and construction where I have been the client and the contractor, it still goes on regardless of being in mining or construction we need “One safety for all”. HSE members are to help and not hinder operations, if there is a problem help or suggest ways to fix the issue don’t say “don’t do it that way” and walk away.

    I’m afraid some of my HSE colleagues are more on a power struggle rather than help fix the problem. Remember we are all there for the same things, doing the job safely, getting paid and all going home fit and well.

  3. As a person who has enjoyed the mining life and been employed by BHP both as contractor and employee as well as being in HSE area I have notice that there are two rules with BHP. One is designed for BHP contractors and one for BHP employees, which one is stricter? The idea of do as we say and not as we do is not a great safety policy.

    For those of you who disagree, I did an independent audit as a HSE specialist on a BHP site, I won’t divulge the result but needless to say they are having trouble with their safety regardless of their 10 Fatal Risk protocols.

    Don’t be offended BHP, I also worked as a contractor with other international companies and you are not alone in the do as we say not as I do safety paragon. Unfortunately some safety concerns are put in the too hard basket. Remember a good philosophy is production first BUT safety always.

    1. From your experience, do you think the move by BHP Billiton to not use contractors and move all functions \”in-house\” will lead to an improvement in the safety rate?

  4. Kevin, Can you please amend your comment. Last year there was no seismic related death at the leinster mine site. There was an operator trapped for some hours but there was no death. Trust us as someone that has worked at that mine, BHP are all about the safety. Seismicity is monitored well and the 2 underground fatalities that have occurred were not seismic related in the slightest. Please take on board how difficult it is for those of us involved to read incorrect information. I realise that BHPB can strive to do better but please get all your facts correct when making statements.

    1. Kylie, you are right and I apologise. I have re-read The Age article from which the information was taken and will amend the main post and comment accordingly. Thanks for taking me to task

  5. So which mine manager or company director is going to jail this time and how many tens of millions will the company be fined if found to have contributed to the death of the mine worker through negligence. Here is an ideal opportunity to really sharpen the focus of those responsible on \”coal face\” safety issues.

    I suspect there will be the usual soft shoe shuffle by all to remain out of the spotlight.

    1. Tony

      I agree that there needs to be accountability for workplace deaths and injuries but looking at the issues through the \”fantasy wold view\” of politics, I wonder what the WA government could do? The government is from the Liberal Party, friend to business and critic of over-regulation. OHS enforcement is an uncomfortable fit with the ideology.

      Many critics of BHP Billiton, union and otherwise, say there is a systemic safety problem with this company. What will be achieved by a financial penalty, even a record amount, on BHP Billiton? Will safety be improved more than what is being done already?

      And each of the deaths are prosecuted separately (if prosecution proceeds). Is it possible to prosecute a company for multiple fatalities that occurred at different times but in the same workplace? The initial investigations by BHP and others indicate a broader problem that is unrelated to individual workers and work practices. Could the government prosecute BHP Billiton for OHS breaches and deaths in a \”job lot\”? This would certainly mirror the reality of many deaths within the one company.

      I have been thinking more about Eric Ripper\’s call for a Royal Commission into the company\’s safety management. It seemed extreme until I remembered the Beaconsfield mine disaster where there were several investigations called for by the Tasmanian government, including a broad Coroner\’s inquest, and that incident related only to a single death. That mine also had seismic issues.

      The WA Minister, Norman Moore, has said that a 2009 review into seismic activity at the mine had cleared the mine for operation but clearly seismicity is a significant hazard in the mining sector and perhaps the Beaconsfield investigation reports need another read through.

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