Mining firm convicted after employee suffers serious workplace injury

Date: Feb 16, 2015

The Department of Trade and Investment has successfully prosecuted a NSW-based mining company after claiming the firm failed to provide a safe working environment for staff.

In 2010, an employee of the organisation severely injured himself when a slab of coal fell on him while he worked underground. The man was replacing picks in the maingate cutter drum of a coal shearer, a machine used to cut coal from the tunnel walls, when the accident occurred.

According to court documents, an exposed roof partially covered the cutter, and it was through this roof that the large coal piece fell and struck the employee on his lower back.

The man is also pursuing personal injury compensation through the NSW Supreme Court in a separate case. Incidents such as this can lead to total and permanent disability claims if the plaintiff is unable to return to their job after a particularly severe accident.

In this particular case, the Department of Trade and Investment argued that the business should have installed a secondary roof support to optimise worker safety when performing maintenance on cutter machines.

The company was also accused of not giving enough information or training to the employee regarding the replacement of picks in the shearer, as well as failing to offer sufficient supervision or a proper risk assessment. A number of other associated charges were filed against the firm.

Company found guilty

While some of the prosecution’s particulars were not made out, the judge found the defendant guilty on several of the issues raised.

This included the failure to provide a secondary roof support; the firm had installed mesh rather than roof bolts, which was not considered an adequate protective measure.

The prosecution also claimed the company’s risk assessment highlighted another shortcoming. Despite a review occurring, it was deemed insufficient, as none of the problems unveiled by the investigation were subsequently resolved.

“It is true that a risk assessment is only a precursor to taking action, but the point is, its intent is to lead to action. A proper assessment requires that its results be communicated and, if necessary, acted upon,” said District Court Judge William Kearns.

“It would also have included an appropriate control measure, roof bolts being the most obvious one.”

Judge Kearns also criticised the organisation for not informing the employee of the hazardous conditions that he would be working under, which was described as a “significant contribution to the risk” of the accident. The firm was therefore found guilty and convicted of breaching health and safety conditions.

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