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BHP cops $400,000 fine for Olympic Dam worker's death

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Mining giant BHP Billiton has been ordered to pay more than $400,000 in fines and compensation over the death of one of its workers in “foreseeable” circumstances at the Olympic Dam mine in 2015.

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Brian Partington was killed when crushed by falling rocks weighing about 1300 kilograms while working underground at the Roxby Downs mine on February 10, 2015.

Another worker found his body, pinned underneath two large slabs of rock, at about 5am that morning.

SA Employment Tribunal deputy president Michael Ardlie has ordered BHP Olympic Dam Corporation pay $390,000 in fines and $80,000 in compensation to Partington’s wife and three children.

BHP had pleaded guilty to failing to provide a safe work system and admitted that the risk of rock fall in the circumstances of Partington’s death was “foreseeable” and “very substantial”.

The company had since implemented new training for workers that had “significantly minimised, if not eliminated, any risk of injury or death” – and its voluntary payment of $165,000 to the family prior to the judgement demonstrated “genuine contrition and remorse”, BHP’s legal representatives argued.

The company has three prior convictions for safety breaches at its Olympic Dam mine.

According to Ardlie’s judgement, while BHP had “extensive procedures in place” to protect its employees, its work instructions at the time of Partington’s death failed to specify at what distance from the rock face a worker should stand while changing a jumbo drill bit.

“The decision as to where the drill bits would be changed was left to the individual operator,” the judgement reads.

“This discrepancy in the procedures that were in place was the reason why the tragic incident occurred.”

A spokesperson for BHP told InDaily: “Brian’s death deeply impacted the Olympic Dam operation and his family remains in the team’s thoughts.”

“Since the incident, BHP has made a number of deliberate changes to the way work is conducted underground.

“BHP is determined to never become complacent about safety – and is vigilant, in every part of the operation, to ensure nothing ever comes before the safety of its people.

“Our thoughts are with Brian’s family at this difficult time.”

Ardlie accepted that BHP had shown contrition for its offence.

“I was told that financial assistance to Mr Partington’s family totalling some $165,000 had been paid,” his judgement says.

“Whilst no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a husband and father the financial assistance is consistent with genuine contrition and an acceptance of responsibility.”

The industrial magistrate declined to apply the maximum fine of $1.5 million, as “this amount is reserved for the worst possible breaches”.

“The devastating consequences of the breach are to be considered but the defendant (BHP) did have in place … significant measures designed to make the system of operation safe for its employees,” the judgement says.

“It was not as though the defendant was reckless or indifferent to the safety of its employees.”

Ardlie found nonetheless, that “a significant fine should be imposed”.

He reduced the fine by 40 per cent – from $650,000 to $390,000 – as a result of BHP’s early guilty plea.

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