01/04/2009 - 13:08

State puts BHP on stop work notice

01/04/2009 - 13:08

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The state government says it will order work to stop at any BHP Billiton mines where workplace breaches are found, after five recent deaths at the company's Pilbara iron ore sites.

State puts BHP on stop work notice

The state government says it will order work to stop at any BHP Billiton mines where workplace breaches are found, after five recent deaths at the company's Pilbara iron ore sites.

"There have been five fatalities this financial year at sites operated by BHP Billiton and the state government will not stand by and let this state of affairs continue," WA Mines Minister Norman Moore said on Wednesday.

"Mines inspectors will now issue prohibition notices to BHP under the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 - basically a stop work notice - for any breach of work practices or workplace conditions that may constitute a hazard to workers," he said.

The new, unprecedented policy was implemented by State Mining Engineer Martin Knee using his discretionary powers under the act.

"Improvement notices will no longer be issued to BHP Billiton," Mr Moore said.

"If there is any breach, an immediate prohibition notice will prevent work from continuing at that particular worksite until the problem is resolved."

In underscoring his concern of the mining giant's safety record, Mr Moore said BHP had been issued with 12 prohibition notices in the past fortnight.

"My advice is that BHP has received 12 prohibition notices since the State Mining Engineer used his discretionary powers to direct inspectors to issue prohibition orders rather than improvement notices about a fortnight ago," he said said.

"While this figure may seem alarming at first glance, it must be noted that they could relate to relatively minor safety breaches."

BHP Billiton iron ore president Ian Ashby acknowledged the company's safety performance was unacceptable and had an enormous impact on many lives.

"We apologise to all those affected by the events that have taken place," Mr Ashby said in a statement on Wednesday.

"We are deeply saddened by the deaths within our Western Australia iron ore business, and we are doing everything we can to identify the causes and take action to prevent further tragedies," he said.

Senior BHP executives met with Mr Moore last Friday to discuss the company's safety performance.

Mr Ashby said an independent investigation of the company's WA iron ore operations was under way and would be presented to the state mining engineer by April 30.

BHP had reduced site access, improved contractor management, tried to prevent excessive working hours and suspended all non-essential work outside daylight hours to improve safety practices.

 

 

An edited announcement from the Mines Minister is below:

 

 

The state government has taken the unprecedented step of ordering stop work notices for any breach of workplace conditions related to BHP Billiton sites after the death of five workers on the miner's Pilbara sites this financial year.

Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore made the announcement today following high-level talks with BHP Billiton executives last week to discuss the recent spate of deaths at the company's worksites.

"There have been five fatalities this financial year at sites operated by BHP Billiton, and the State Government will not stand by and let this state of affairs continue," Mr Moore said.

"Mines Inspectors will now issue prohibition notices to BHP under the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 - basically a stop work notice - for any breach of work practices or work place conditions that may constitute a hazard to workers."

Until now Mines Inspectors have generally issued improvement notices for breaches of worksite conditions - orders that allowed work to continue while problems were addressed.

Mr Moore said the new policy was a result of state mining engineer Martin Knee taking the unprecedented step of using his discretionary powers under the Act.

"Improvement notices will no longer be issued to BHP Billiton. If there is any breach, an immediate prohibition notice will prevent work from continuing at that particular worksite until the problem is resolved," Mr Moore said.

"This policy will remain in place at least until I have seen the report of a Section 45 review currently under way into safety management systems at all of BHP Billiton's Pilbara iron ore mine sites."

He said the Section 45 review - requiring independent engineering studies of BHP worksites to be carried out - was expected to report by April 30.

"There has been a lot of work put into this document and my understanding is that it will be a comprehensive report into the existing policies, processes and systems that relate to BHP's operations," he said.

"There will no doubt be many areas identified where BHP can lift its game to improve worker safety."

Mr Moore expressed confidence that BHP Billiton was carrying out its own plan to address the issue.

"During talks with BHP last week, the company undertook to work closely with the Department of Mines and Petroleum to ensure that worker safety is a priority," he said.

"BHP has advised me that it will suspend all non-essential night shift work across its Pilbara operations, enhance its fatigue management plan, hold contractor safety workshops, move its rail operations from under the jurisdiction of the 'Mines Safety and Inspection Act to the Rail Safety Act', improve its traffic management standards and strengthen behavioural safety programs."

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