The Australian state of Queensland has passed tough new laws allowing it to jail mining directors if they are found to be criminally negligible for deaths at their operations.

As part of the new legislation, company bosses could face up to 20 years in prison, while firms could be slapped with fines of up to 13m Australian dollars ($8.6m).

While the Queensland Resources Council (QRC), an independent body representing the commercial developers of the state’s minerals, previously held reservations about the proposals, it now appears to have changed its stance in favour of the government’s new laws.

Queensland’s mines minister Dr Anthony Lynham says establishing industrial manslaughter as an offence in mines and quarries was “another key reform” by the government to “protect the state’s 50,000 mine and quarry workers”.

“This offence sends the clear message to employers and senior officers that the safety and health of their workers are paramount,” he added.

“In the past two years we’ve had eight workers die, and a gas explosion in an underground coal mine has put five miners in hospital.

“It’s not acceptable. Safety on a mine site is everybody’s responsibility.”


What the new mining laws mean for firms

Previously, the maximum sentence an individual could face for criminal negligence in Queensland was three years in jail for multiple mining workers’ deaths.

It is one of the largest mining states in Australia and home to some of the biggest coal deposits in the world.

Dr Lynham said a “safety culture” needs to be modelled right from the top and creating the offence of industrial manslaughter will “ensure senior company officers do all they can to create a safe mine site”.

He believes the new sanctions bring the resources sector and its workers “in line with every other workplace across the state — but with higher financial penalties”.

BHP profits
Ian McFarlane, CEO of the QRC, whose members include BHP, Glendora and Anglo American, admitted last year that the group expressed very strong reservations against the laws (Credit: BHP Group)

The new laws also require people in critical statutory safety roles in coal mines to be mine operator employees, instead of contract workers.

Lynham added that this will provide critical officers with “confidence that they can raise and report safety issues without fear of reprisal or impact on their employment”.

The Queensland government said the latest policy additions complement a “suite of sweeping mine safety and health reforms”, which it claims are the “most substantial” set of changes that have been made in the industry for 20 years.

The regulation will come into effect on 1 July and will include the establishment of an independent resources health and safety authority.


Queensland Resources Council backs new mining laws

Ian McFarlane, CEO of the QRC, whose members include BHP, Glencore and Anglo American, admitted last year that the group expressed strong reservations against the laws, ABC reported.

He said this was “on the basis that it couldn’t be demonstrated that this would improve the safety in the operation of the mining industry in Queensland”.

But the QRC appears to have changed its stance after releasing a statement following the government’s announcement.

The mining lobby group said the safety of mine workers “remains the highest priority for the Queensland resources industry”.

“The QRC believes those who work in the industry, whether on mine sites or in offices, do their best and all within their power and responsibility to keep each other safe,” it added.

“We all want our colleagues to go home to their family.

“Tragically, six mineworkers have passed away since December 2018 and four others remain in a critical condition in hospital. Our thoughts and prayers remain with them, their families and their workmates.

“As an industry, we will continue to strive for zero fatalities and zero injuries. If we can achieve this, we will keep Queenslanders safe and make the new offence of industrial manslaughter obsolete.

“Until that time, the QRC will work with the minister and the government to ensure there are no unintended consequences for mine safety from the Bill that may diminish mine safety and that, together, we can secure the fullest possible compliance with mine safety laws.”