Fortescue Metals contests cyclone deaths

In December 2008 Fortescue Metals Group said it would contest charges it breached OHS laws over the death of two people.  In April 2010, it is seeking to avoid the charges.

On March 9 2007, tropical cyclone George hit a camp site in north-west Australia killing two people and injuring others.  The temporary accommodation shelters, “dongas”, in which workers were sheltering provided insufficient protection for many workers.

According to one media report on 12 April 2010, the lawyer for FMG,  John Karkar,

“…. said his clients’ operations were governed by the Mines Safety Inspections Act because the Pilbara camp was built for the accommodation of mine workers and workers who were building a railway line which was to be used to transport iron ore.”

FMG is seeking the OHS charges to be dropped.

“Mr Karkar said FMG and TPI [The Pilbara Infrastructure] had contracted a company to manage and maintain the work camp and a Memorandum of Understanding meant the contractor was responsible for all maintenance and repairs to the facilities.”

It seems odd that such an experienced mining company would choose to point the finger at another company rather than accepting the shared responsibility for the injuries and deaths and move on.  And that other company, The Pilbara Infrastructure Pty Ltd, may not really be a contractor as TPI has been described elsewhere as a “subsidiary” of FMG.

The dispute is also an indication of the issues associated with the harmonisation of workplace safety laws across Australia.  But, where the justification in the past has been to reduce “red tape”, here is an example of a company choosing which safety laws it has broken and taking advantage of the plethora of safety laws for an unreported purpose but surely not one that may apply a higher penalty.

According to an AAP report also on 12 April 2010, FMG is pointing lots of fingers to other contractors saying that the camp was incorrectly rated for extreme weather exposure.  This may all be true but FMG will need to prove that it should not be held responsible for the injuries and deaths of workers in a camp established for its benefit by its subsidiary and by companies it contracted.

The trial resumes on 19 April 2010.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

4 thoughts on “Fortescue Metals contests cyclone deaths”

  1. The employer should not be able to abrogate its responsibilities in terms of the provision of a safe working environment and that includes the contracting of external organisations to provide services.

    Once again we see the attitude of employers who really give lip service only. I wonder if the board of the company and the senior management are going to be held accountable, because they would all have been aware of the arrangements and a decision would have been made at a reasonably high level and signed off. I would love to see the minutes of meetings surrounding the supply of accommodation services.

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