The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) has raised concerns that proposed industrial manslaughter laws will have the reverse outcome of decreasing the safety culture in the mining industry.
QRC Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane today told a Parliamentary Committee examining the proposed legislation that safety remains the sector’s top priority, but changes were needed to ensure the Bill met its purpose.
“The resources industry has been a willing participant and partner in reforms to enhance mining safety, including through the safety roundtable last year, the subsequent safety reset and the Sean Brady safety review,” Mr Macfarlane said.
“Safety is fundamental to the operation of resources sites, and a fundamental value that operators share with the regulator, workers and their representatives. “We are all working towards the same goal, an industry where every worker goes home unharmed at the end of every shift.
“However, QRC believes the Bill as drafted could have the perverse outcome of decreasing safety culture and risking unintended consequences.
“The current Coal Mining Health and Safety Act has been in operation for two decades and it was drafted in the wake of the Moura No. 2 Mine disaster that claimed 11 lives on the 7th of August 1994.
“This legislation made landmark changes to safety laws for the resources industry. These changes were not reflected in safety laws for other industries. “These safety laws governing the coal mining industry and protecting coal mining workers established the unique role, duties, responsibilities and obligations of statutory positions such as the site senior executive (SSE).
“The onus and the obligation for safety onsite rests upon those statutory office holders, including SSEs. “Under our current legislation SSEs who do not meet their obligations face the prospect of a fine or a custodial sentence.
“The Government’s stated intent to amend Work Health and Safety legislation by adding industrial manslaughter offences was to enable executive officers to be charged in the event of criminally negligent behaviour which had led to the fatality of a worker.
“As the resource acts include statutory positions, it is not simply a matter of translating the industrial manslaughter provisions in the Work Health and Safety Act into the existing resources acts.
“To do so causes a number of unintended consequences and risks reducing the likelihood that executive officers will ever be able to be charged as the industrial manslaughter offence is likely to disproportionately target the SSEs and other statutory positions.
“Rather than extending the prospect of a fine or jail time to those decision-makers beyond the mine site, the industry expects this Bill to load a heavier burden on site-based SSEs and the positions reporting to them, making their fundamental role untenable.
“Recognising the onerous personal statutory duties that these positions already hold with associated penalties including the potential to be imprisoned for criminal manslaughter, QRC seeks the exclusion of statutory positions from the definition of Senior Officers.
“The purpose in seeking this change is not to weaken the provisions, rather it is to enable the intent of the legislation to be achieved, that is, to ensure that corporate decision makers can be held personally liable for criminal acts of negligence causing death.
“QRC believes that without these changes the Bill also runs the risk of diminishing safety by undermining the culture necessary to prioritise safety. “The Brady report made it clear that the most important element of an effective safety culture is timely, comprehensive and honest incident reporting.
“The Bill as proposed creates a disincentive for workers to report these details. While any mine death is tragic, the industry as a whole works together to learn quickly from any onsite incidents.
“This real-time safety sharing culture will be diminished by legislation that discourages anyone from openly sharing information for fear of prosecution.
“The Bill also includes a late addition for which there has been no consultation or evidence provided.
“That issue is the proposal that all statutory officials in coal mining must be employed by the coal mine operator.
“There is no evidence to suggest this requirement would have any impact on improving safety outcomes.
“The Brady report made no findings that the reporting culture of contractor statutory position holders was inferior to the reporting culture of employees in those positions.
“QRC and the resources industry remain committed to making improvements to mine safety and this requires full collaboration with other stakeholders on meaningful reforms.”