COAL seam gas mining company Santos has been fined $120,000 over the death of a worker at a mine site near Narrabri in 2009.
Bruce Austin, 57, a subcontractor from Branxton, died after he was struck in the head by a piece of pipeline during work at the then-Eastern Star Gas site, about 35km south-west of the town, on August 1, 2009.
He was airlifted by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter to Tamworth hospital with serious head injuries and was later transferred to Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital, where he died three days later.
Eastern Star Gas, which has since been taken over by Santos, pleaded guilty to breaching occupational health and safety laws by failing to ensure workers were not exposed to risk while working on the site, which was being run by a subcontractor. The Industrial Court of NSW heard Mr Austin was contracted to help try and pull a piece of pipeline out of the ground and that, shortly before he was struck in the head, he was directed to sit some distance away from the operation.
However, shortly after the chain that was pulling the pipe broke, Mr Austin was found unconscious on the ground.
He died later in hospital from massive head injuries.
In a judgment handed down last Friday, Justice Conrad Staff said it was “obvious and foreseeable that there was a risk of injury to any person at the site if struck by a recoiling pipeline”.
“Although (Eastern Star Gas) had systems of work that were capable of ensuring safety, it failed to adopt its own procedures to check that there were safe work methods in place in respect of the activities being undertaken at the site,” he said.
“It did not attend the site and it did not take the necessary steps to ensure that there was proper supervision.”
He said “simple and effective measures” could have been taken to prevent the accident.
Mr Austin’s widow, Ann Austin, described how her husband, a loving grandfather of eight, was “the glue that bound the family together”.
She said Eastern Star Gas had behaved in a “cavalier” manner towards her and her family and had never bothered to speak to them.
“The realisation to her and her family that occupational health and safety policies were not put in place was devastating,” Justice Staff said.
Justice Staff noted that since Santos NSW had taken over Eastern Star Gas, the company had put its own comprehensive health and safety policies in place.
“In my view, Santos’s OHS policies are of some significance in determining the appropriate penalty and in assessing whether there is a likelihood that a similar incident would occur in the future,” he said.
He fined the company $120,000.
The maximum penalty for such an offence is $550,000.
Santos spokesman Sam Crafter said since taking over Eastern Star Gas operations, the company had imposed its own stringent safety measures and comprehensively overhauled work practices to increase safety at its NSW sites.
“At the recent hearing on behalf of Santos, we expressed our condolences to Mr Austin’s family,” he said.
“The safety of our workers and contractors is our highest priority.
“Every worker has the right to return home from work safely each day and it is a tragedy when this does not happen.”