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Coal mine fire sees operator fined $50,000

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Date: 
Thursday, 1 December, 2022 - 13:00
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
Victoria

Latrobe Valley coal mine operator AGL Loy Yang was recently fined after workers were put at risk from a fire sparked by a faulty conveyor in 2018.

The company was sentenced in the Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to use administrative controls to reduce the risks associated with mining hazards and a single charge of failing to notify WorkSafe Victoria immediately after becoming aware of an incident.

AGL Loy Yang was, without conviction, fined a total of $50,000 and ordered to pay a further $9124 in costs.

The court heard a machine known as the L115 conveyor was used to transport brown coal from the Loy Yang mine to two nearby thermal power stations.

The conveyor was fitted with a system of engineering controls, including belt control devices designed to detect belt slippage and halt the conveyor to reduce the risk of frictional heat and the possibility of a fire.

On 23 November 2018, a slipping belt on the conveyor sparked a fire in an area of the mine surrounded by brown coal, oil and electrical infrastructure.

An investigation found operators in the conveyor’s control room could not have detected the belt slippage as they were unaware one of the belt control devices had been previously disconnected because it had been falsely tripping.

The court found it was reasonably practicable for AGL Loy Yang to have reduced the risk to health and safety through the use of administrative controls by providing and maintaining a system of work for the cancellation, review and restoration of the belt control devices.

WorkSafe Victoria director of health and safety Narelle Beer said it was an important reminder to duty holders of the need to take a step-by-step approach to control health and safety risks.

“While the most effective control measure is eliminating the hazard and its associated risk, we understand that’s not always possible,” Beer said.

“Employers must ensure administrative controls such as work methods or procedures are used where a health and safety risk remains after taking measures such as substitution, isolation and engineering controls.”