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Mining Bosses Face Jail If Workers Die Under Proposed Laws

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Executives could face up to 20 years in jail if Queensland mine and quarry workers die because of their criminal negligence.

Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham introduced legislation into Parliament today creating the offence of industrial manslaughter, bringing resources workplaces in line with all other Queensland workplaces.

“It is totally unacceptable that workers continue to die in our resources workplaces,” Dr Lynham said.

“Queensland already has the toughest mine safety and health laws in the world.

“These laws will give our 50,000 mine and quarry workers the same protections as other Queensland workers.

“These are part of the most comprehensive suite of mine health and safety reforms in two decades.”

Under the proposed laws, senior officers of a mine or quarry company can be tried for industrial manslaughter if criminal negligence is proven for a workers death.

Maximum penalties range up to $13 million and 20 years’ jail.

Dr Lynham said the new laws were just part of a suite of sweeping mine safety and health reforms under the Palaszczuk Government.

“The most important product to come off a mine site or a quarry at the end of shift is not minerals, or coal; it’s a worker, heading home to family and friends,” he said.

“This Labor Government will always act to protect workers.”

Those reforms include:

  • better detection and prevention of black lung, and an improved safety net for affected workers.
  • increased maximum penalties for offences to $4 million and powers for the regulator to issue fines without going to court.
  • statewide safety reset sessions for mine and quarry workers to refocus on health and safety
  • $35 million to deliver reforms to improve the safety and health of our mine workers
  • a commitment to tighter controls on mine dust levels
  • legislation to be debated today to establish an independent resources health and safety authority.
  • extra mines inspectors.

There has also been more than 49,000 chest x-rays to ILO (International Labour Organisation) standards, including more than 14,000 by Queensland based Lungscreen Australia.

Leading mine dust lung disease expert Dr Bob Cohen, from University of Illinois, Chicago, said the new health surveillance of coal miners makes Queensland “the envy of the world”.

“Coal miners and their families should feel comforted that miners’ health will be protected through a high quality medical surveillance system, that ensures disease is detected early and the risk of disease progressing to a severe and debilitating stage is thereby significantly reduced,” Dr Cohen said.

“Other jurisdictions including the United States, should strongly consider adopting these changes Queensland has led.”

Dr Lynham told Parliament there had been extensive consultation with the Queensland Resources Council, mining companies and unions.

The bill introduced on Tuesday also strengthens measures to ensure taxpayers are not left with the costs of rehabilitating abandoned mines and better protections for vulnerable electricity customers.

The bill proposes reforms in line with the Palaszczuk Government’s financial assurance and mine rehabilitation reforms. The reforms are:

  • more powers for government to scrutinise the financial capabilities of a resource authority holder when a mine changes hands
  • enhanced scrutiny of mines that go into care and maintenance, in particular by requiring mineral mining lease holders to provide development plans
  • broader powers for remediating abandoned mines, and where possible, commercialise these sites; and
  • clear criteria to assess the suitability of companies and people to hold resource tenures, and exclude unsuitable applicants.

Dr Lynham said proposed energy legislation changes would also place a permanent ban on unfair fees and charges for electricity users.

"We’re banning electricity retailers from charging standard contract customers in south east Queensland for late payment, choosing to receive a paper bill or making over-the-counter payments,” he said.

“Often these customers are older persons or those who do not have access to the internet.”

“We’re standing up for vulnerable Queenslanders by stamping out burdensome fees and helping to keep electricity bills down.”

QRC Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane has commented on the proposed change saying, "The resources industry supports one in seven jobs across Queensland".  

"A safe workplace for those 372,000 men and women and their safe return home to family and loved ones is our priority.

"The loss of six lives in the mining industry over the last 18 months has been devastating for families, colleagues, companies, communities and our industry.

"On 10 July last year, the Queensland Resources Council, representative unions and the State Government agreed to work together, including 'on reforms to strengthen safety culture in the resources sector.'

"This includes sanctions for reckless behaviour and legislative reforms, such as the Government’s proposal to actively consider the offence of ‘industrial manslaughter’, which exists in other industry sectors.

"Now the Government’s legislation has been tabled in State Parliament, the QRC will examine the Bill in further detail.

"QRC accepts the introduction of industrial manslaughter as an offence in the resources sector. However, QRC is concerned the current proposed legislation unintentionally weakens the mine safety reforms introduced two decades ago following the Moura 2 Mine tragedy that claimed 11 lives on 7 August 1994.

"QRC believes it is critical the reforms developed in the wake of that tragedy remain in force and are built upon.

"QRC will continue to work with the Government and unions to achieve that end.

"QRC will make a formal submission to the Parliamentary Committee that will examine the Bill" the statement concluded.  

By Michelle Brewer