Queensland recently passed Australia’s toughest mine safety laws, with executives facing up to 20 years’ jail if Queensland mine and quarry workers die because of criminal negligence.
Establishing industrial manslaughter as an offence in mines and quarries is a key reform to protect the state’s 50,000 mine and quarry workers, said Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lynham.
“This offence sends the clear message to employers and senior officers that the safety and health of their workers is paramount,” Minister Lynham said.
“In the past two years we’ve had eight workers die, and a gas explosion in an underground coal mine has put five miners in hospital.
“It’s not acceptable. Safety on a mine site is everybody’s responsibility.
“But a safety culture needs to be modelled right from the top and creating the offence of industrial manslaughter is to ensure senior company officers do all they can to create a safe mine site.
“These new sanctions bring the resources sector and its workers in line with every other workplace across the State – but with higher financial penalties.”
The new laws also require people in critical statutory safety roles in coal mines to be mine operator employees – not contract workers.
“This provides these critical officers with confidence that they can raise and report safety issues without fear of reprisal or impact on their employment,” Minister Lynham said.
The new laws complement a suite of sweeping mine safety and health reforms under the Queensland Government, the most substantial suite of reforms in 20 years.
The Queensland Resources Council also said the safety of mine workers remains the highest priority for the Queensland resources industry.
“As an industry, we will continue to strive for zero fatalities and zero injuries,” the Council said.
“If we can achieve this, we will keep Queenslanders safe and make the new offence of industrial manslaughter obsolete.”
CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland President Stephen Smyth said a string of serious incidents in the mining sector over recent years showed that stronger penalties were needed to ensure mine operators provided a safe working environment for their employees.
“Where mineworkers die due to negligence, there should be consequences,” said Smyth.
“These laws aren’t just about punishing the guilty. They’re about making people accountable for safety on their watch.
“Mine safety is a multi-dimensional issue and there is no silver bullet, but accountability for individuals in positions of authority is absolutely critical.”
The new laws also require statutory positions in mines to be employed by mining companies, rather than employed as contractors.
“The critical roles of Deputy and Open Cut Examiner must be directly employed and focus on safety, rather than production,” said Smyth.
“This is an important element of the new laws and we are pleased it was retained despite intense industry opposition, but disappointed it won’t be enforced for 18 months.”