Hazelwood Power Corporation Pty Ltd has been fined $1.25 million for five breaches of the OHS Act for failing (so far as is reasonably practicable) to provide a safe working environment for its employees.
In addition, the company was fined an addition $310,000 for five charges under the OHS Act for failing to ensure non-employees were not exposed to health and safety risks.
The charges relate to a fire at its open-cut mine near Morwell in the Latrobe Valley in February 2014, which burned for 45 days and covered nearby areas in thick smoke and ash.
The fire also exposed a large number of emergency services workers, mine workers and residents to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Several of those workers have reported consistent, significant health issues after attending the fire.
According to WorkSafe Victoria, the jury found that the company had 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.
Chief Executive of WorkSafe, Colin Radford explained that despite the company not being responsible for the ignition of the fire – which was the result of nearby bushfires – there should have been greater risk mitigation strategies in place, taking into account previous incidents of fire at the site and the extreme weather forecast at the time of the incident.
“Brown coal fires are notorious for emitting air-borne pollutants including carbon monoxide, the harmful effects of which are well known,” Mr Radford said.
“This was an entirely foreseeable event that has led to significant adverse health impacts, and WorkSafe will continue to prosecute employers who fail in their duty to protect not only their workers but also the general public.”