Mining bosses could face jail, $13m fine for worker deaths
The recent spate of deaths in the Queensland mining industry has led Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham to introduce legislation into parliament, creating the offence of industrial manslaughter. Executives could face up to 20 years in jail if Queensland mine or quarry workers die because of their criminal negligence. The new laws are part of a series of mine safety and health reforms under the Palaszczuk government.
“It is totally unacceptable that workers continue to die in our resources workplaces. 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,” said Dr Lynham.
The proposed laws could see senior officers of mines or quarry companies tried for industrial manslaughter if criminal negligence is proven for a worker’s death, with maximum penalties ranging up to $13 million and 20 years in jail.
“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. This Labor government will always act to protect workers,” said Dr Lynham.
The reforms include better detection and prevention of black lung, an improved safety net for affected workers, and a commitment to tighter controls on mine dust levels. The reforms will also increase maximum penalties for offences to $4 million and enable the regulator to issue fines without going to court. Under the reforms, an independent resources health and safety authority will be established and extra mines inspectors hired to ensure worker safety. Statewide safety reset sessions for mine and quarry workers will also be carried out, to refocus on health and safety. Additionally, $35 million will go towards delivering reforms to improve the safety and health of our mine workers.
There have also been more than 49,000 chest X-rays to International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards, including more than 14,000 by Queensland-based Lungscreen Australia.
“Coalminers 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. Other jurisdictions, including the United States, should strongly consider adopting these changes Queensland has led,” said Dr Bob Cohen, a mine dust lung disease expert from the University of Illinois, Chicago.
Dr Lynham told parliament there had been extensive consultation with the Queensland Resources Council, mining companies and unions. The bill will also strengthen measures to ensure taxpayers are not left with the costs of rehabilitating abandoned mines, and provide better protections for vulnerable electricity customers. The reforms are in line with the Palaszczuk government’s financial assurance and mine rehabilitation reforms.
The reforms will enable the government to scrutinise the financial capabilities of a resource authority holder when a mine changes hands, and provide broader powers for remediating and commercialising abandoned mines. The reforms will enhance scrutiny of mines that go into care and maintenance, and require mineral mining lease holders to provide development plans. The reforms will also provide clear criteria to assess the suitability of companies and people to hold resource tenures, and exclude unsuitable applicants. The proposed energy legislation changes will 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. 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,” said Dr Lynham.
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