BHP wins 20% discount on fatality fine
BHP was last week awarded a 20 per cent discount on a fine over a worker’s death at the Olympic Dam site in 2007, despite its safety procedures conflicting with actual work systems.
“There was a system of work reduced to writing but the fact was that workers were directed to perform work in a manner contrary to the written system. The system had deficiencies given the absence of any physical reminders or checks not being in place to control the simultaneous performance of work,” South Australian Industrial Court Magistrate Ardlie said in his judgement.
Ardlie applied a 20 per cent discount to the $95,000 fine he would have applied had BHP not shown genuine contrition and pled guilty early-on to the safety breaches which resulted in the death of worker Scott Rigg while he was conducting a routine smelter shutdown at the company’s plant.
A heavy nozzle from the smelter’s humidifier had fallen 14 metres, landing on Rigg’s head and tragically killed him.
Eight family members have received payments of $2,500 each from BHP for their loss in accordance with the $20,000 maximum compensation available in the state.
BHP’s written work system stated that all nozzles should be removed prior to allowing access to the humidifier, however the instructions fell short in the situation that day where tasks both inside and outside the humidifier were going on simultaneously.
Ardlie commented that if BHP had conducted an adequate risk assessment of the simultaneous performance of tasks it should have appreciated that “if the written systems were departed from in any way there were, in effect, no control measures to address the failure”.
“Safety depended on the system being followed. No account was made for any change in the operation,” said Ardlie.
BHP has since gated components of the system to prevent access when a risk is present, and installed an inflatable balloon to provide a barrier between workers below and objects above.
Ardlie had also noted that since BHP took over the gigantic Olympic Dam mining site from Western Mining Corporation in 2005, the company had cut the “total recordable injury frequency rate” form 43 down to six per annum in the five years to 2010. Ardlie said at BHP there is “an absolute commitment to safety”.