South32 Worsley Alumina Pty Ltd fined $65,000

The company was fined after exposing an electrician to hazards in 2014.
Date: Tuesday, 06 November 2018

On 31 October, South32 Worsley Alumina Pty Ltd (formerly known as BHP Billiton Worsley Alumina) was fined $65,000 in the Collie Magistrates Court after exposing an electrician, working on a lift at the Worsley Refinery, to hazards in 2014.

Mr Colin Whitton 66, who had been working at the Worsley Refinery for 24 years, died on 29 September 2014 when he was crushed between a lift car and the lift shaft at the power plant.

Electricians were called to the refinery because the outer doors of a lift at ground level were not closing and the lift could not be operated.

During the fault finding, large sections of the safety circuit were bypassed to enable the lift to move. This disabled the mechanisms preventing the lift moving without the doors to the lift car being closed.

Mr Whitton travelled down in the lift to check if the doors on the ground floor were still open, while the other electrician waited near the top floor landing. It is believed Mr Whitton was inspecting the door locks, which would have placed him close to the shaft wall with the lift car doors open.

An investigation by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) found the company had failed to ensure that there were clear written safety procedures that could have prevented Mr Whitton’s exposure to the hazards.

Mines Safety Director Andrew Chaplyn said the electrician should never have been exposed to the hazards.

“Bypassing the safety circuit, effectively rendered what was theoretically a safe system unsafe,” Mr Chaplyn said.

“There was no safe work instruction for the complex task of how to fault find this lift. Working on live equipment is inherently dangerous.  All mine operators, supervisors and workers need to ensure that fault finding for complex automated plant is undertaken under close supervision, without exposure to any danger whatsoever.

“Allowing a person to attempt to resolve technical issues without enforcing its policy for providing an integrated system for isolating and controlling hazards led to a dangerous situation.”

“It is another reminder of why safety should always be the number one priority in the mining industry. This means ensuring safety processes and procedures are not only in place, but are understood and followed.”  

In handing down the penalty, the court took into account the company’s guilty plea, its standing in the community and past record.