FQM Australia Nickel fined $35,000 after tank rupture endangers worker

Company charged with failing to provide a safe working environment
Date: Thursday, 03 December 2020

FQM Australia Nickel Pty Ltd was today fined $35,000 in the Esperance Magistrates Court after a ruptured tank spilled more than 10,000 litres of hot acidic slurry at the company’s Ravensthorpe nickel operations.

In May 2017, a field technician working on top of the processing tank had to jump across a three-metre drop to avoid the slurry that had burst through the tank’s fibreglass roof.

The spray from the mixture contacted his clothing and the skin on his lower back and face.

FQM had temporarily stored limestone slurry in the tank but failed to clean the limestone residue after draining the vessel. When refilled with a weak acidic mixture, an uncontrolled chemical reaction ruptured the tank’s roof.

The damaged tank was one of a number of vessels used during the company’s nickel extraction process that formed an Atmospheric Leach Circuit.

Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety Mines Safety Director Andrew Chaplyn said the incident was entirely preventable.

“Mining operators need to conduct ongoing risk assessments and must implement appropriate control measures,” he said.

“Measures such as cleaning the tank to remove residual limestone were not implemented.

“There was also only one means of access or egress from the tank platform, so having to jump to an adjacent tank exposed the worker to a fall from height hazard.”

Mr Chaplyn said FQM should have initiated an appropriate Change Management Procedure when it used the tank to temporarily hold limestone slurry.

“All mining operators need to develop and implement change management procedures to identify the potential impact of any proposed changes on the working environment,” he said.

“All employees affected by the change should be provided with adequate information, instruction, training and supervision.

“Worker safety should be every mining company’s number one priority.”

The company was charged with failing to provide a safe working environment and pleaded guilty on 11 August 2020.