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Mount Arthur avoids prosecution, accepts just over $1 million Enforceable Undertaking from NSW Resources Regulator

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Mount Arthur Coal has avoided prosecution after an incident at the Muswellbrook mine two years ago that saw a contractor suffer serious burns.

The NSW Resources Regulator has accepted an enforceable undertaking from Mount Arthur valued at $1,090,750.

The Regulator’s Chief Investigator Steve Orr said the investigation found a worker suffered serious burns to his face, neck, torso and arms after a diesel fire that started while the worker was refuelling a tyre handler at the mine.

“This is the highest value work health and safety undertaking accepted in NSW to date. It will deliver significant engineering improvements at the mine, industry training and vital monetary support for the region’s Rural Fire Service.”

“The Regulator accepted the Enforceable Undertaking as it will deliver tangible benefits to the workforce and community that could not be achieved through prosecution action alone.”

The incident unfolded on 10 August 2017.

The worker was employed through Otraco International Pty Ltd as the contractor who provides onsite tyre management services at the mine – the contractor is ultimately owned by Downer EDI Pty Ltd.

At around 9:30am the worker drove the tyre handler to a refuelling station – the hoses at the refuelling station were fitted with quick connect couplings, but the tyre handler’s fuel tank wasn’t.

The worker then attached a free flow adapter nozzle to an 800 litre per minute refuelling hose defeating several safety controls. The adapter did not correct properly and did not have the capability to automatically stop the flow of diesel when the tank was full.

The worker had to activate the fuelling system via a switchboard. As diesel started to flow it increased at a rapid rate the adapter ejected from the filling neck and as the worker tried to manually switch off the flow diesel splashed on to the worker and on to a hot engine surface igniting under the intense temperature.

The flames ignited the workers clothing, head, arms and body. The worker pulled off his shirt and ran to a nearby drain covering the affected parts of his body in mud.

Water carts and rescue teams extinguished the fire that spread into the engine area of the tyre handler.

The worker was taken to the Royal North Shore Hospital suffering burn to 8 per cent of his total body surface area including full thickness burns to 5 per cent of his body. He needed extensive treatment including skin grafts.

Through their investigations the Regulator found the only trainer the worker had previously been given in the use of the refuelling station was several minutes of ad hoc instruction from one of the mine’s service cart operators.

The worker was given permission to go to the refuelling station.

Investigations confirmed he had used the wrong flow hose as well, there were also issues with the engine over seals, and it had become common practice for contractors to refuel themselves when it should’ve been the service cart operator.

Chief Investigator Steve Orr said lessons from the investigation have been shared widely with the mining industry using digital animations to demonstrate exactly how the incident happened as a prevention tool.

“These animations are the first of their kind to be developed by a work health and safety regulator anywhere in Australia and are aimed at helping the industry address safety issue,” Steve Orr said.

The Regulator has made a number of recommendations and Mount Arthur have a number of expectations to meet under the enforceable undertaking.

The Regulator has also commenced prosecution proceedings against Otraco International Pty Ltd for an alleged breach of the Work Health and Safely Act 2011 (the Act) arising from its investigation into the incident. The matter has been set down for first mention in the District Court of NSW on 16 September 2019.

As the matter against Otraco is now before the court, the Resources Regulator is unable to make further comment.

Image credit: Resources Regulator https://www.resourcesregulator.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/835389/DOC18-696448-Investigation-report-Mt-Arthur.pdf