Hazelwood Power fined $1.56m after mine fire

The operator of Hazelwood mine, Hazelwood Power Corporation Pty Ltd, was this week fined a total of $1.56 million for breaches of the OHS Act after a major fire that burned for several weeks in 2014. The company was last November found guilty of 10 charges following an eight-week jury trial in the Supreme Court.

In sentencing yesterday, the company was fined $1.25 million for five breaches of section 21(1) and (2)(c) of the OHS Act, for failing, so far as reasonably practicable, to provide employees a safe working environment. It was fined a further $310,000 for the remaining five charges under section 23(1) of the Act, for failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks.

The fire started on 9 February 2014, when embers from nearby bushfires ignited exposed coal at the open cut mine near Morwell. It burned for 45 days, and blanketed parts of the Latrobe Valley in ash and thick smoke and exposed mine workers, emergency services personnel and nearby residents to dangerous carbon monoxide and other fine particles.

The jury found the company had failed to:

  • Adequately assess 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.

WorkSafe Chief Executive Colin Radford said while Hazelwood wasn't responsible for starting the fire, it should have been much better prepared for the risk, considering previous fires at the mine and the extreme weather forecast that weekend. "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." Mr Radford said he hoped the substantial penalty will help provide some closure for the community as it continues to recover from the disaster. Source: WorkSafe media release

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