The operator of Hazelwood Mine in Victoria has been convicted for exposing workers and the public to dangerous conditions during a major fire that burned for several weeks in 2014.
Hazelwood Power Corporation had pleaded not guilty to 12 breaches of Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Following an eight-week jury trial in the Melbourne Supreme Court, the company was found guilty of five charges under section 21 (1) and (2) (c) of the OHS Act of failing, so far as reasonably practicable, to provide its employees with a safe working environment.
Hazelwood was convicted of a further five charges under section 23 (1) of the OHS Act, for failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks.
The court heard the company failed to:
Perform an adequate assessment on the risk of fire in the mine from an external source such as bushfire.
Have an adequate reticulated fire water pipe system to the northern batters (sloping walls) of the mine.
Slash vegetation on the face of the northern batters.
Begin wetting down the northern batters on the morning of 9 February 2014 given the extreme fire danger forecast.
Have sufficient staff numbers and expertise to suppress and fight instantly any fires that might take hold in and around the mine during the weekend of 8 and 9 of February 2014.
The company was found not guilty of two charges of failing to install an alternate power supply to operate the mine fire water system.
The fire had a devastating impact on the many workers and emergency personnel who fought the blaze, as well as thousands of nearby residents in the Latrobe Valley, said WorkSafe Victoria chief of business operations Marnie Williams.
“We welcome the jury’s finding today that the company should have been much better prepared for the risk of fire, especially considering previous fires at the mine and the extreme weather conditions forecast that weekend in February 2014,” she said.
“This verdict sends a clear warning to all employers that WorkSafe can, and will, prosecute them if they fail to put the safety of not only their workers, but also the community, first.”