Charges dropped in mining workplace accident court case because witnesses ‘unavailable’ – ABC News
The State Solicitor’s Office in WA has dropped charges against a Western Australian drilling company that was accused of failing to provide a safe working environment in a long-running case dating back nearly three years.
- The accident occurred when a worker tried to climb onto a moving track-mounted vehicle at a salt lake
- Raglan Drilling was due to fight the charges in a trial set down for July
- But the State Solicitor’s Office told the Kalgoorlie Magistrate’s Court they wanted to discontinue the case
Kalgoorlie-based Raglan Drilling was charged after one of its workers was run over by heavy machinery in August 2016.
The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety investigated the incident, in which a worker allegedly tried to climb back onto a track-mounted vehicle that was moving but he slipped and was crushed into a salt lake.
The worker sustained head injuries and a fractured hand in the incident, which occurred at remote Lake Cowan near the gold mining town of Norseman, about 600 kilometres east of Perth.
Raglan Drilling — founded in 2006 by brothers Hugo and Gus Lacey — had pleaded not guilty and was due to fight the charges at a five-day trial set down for July.
But Greg Stockton from the State Solicitor’s Office told the Kalgoorlie Magistrate’s Court today they wanted to discontinue the case due to the “unavailability of key witnesses”.
In dismissing the charges, Magistrate Adam Hills-Wright awarded Raglan Drilling $12,000 in court costs, calling it “fair and reasonable”.
Witnesses have left Australia and one has died
The ABC understands the decision to drop the charges has angered mine safety inspectors, but the Department of Mines declined a request for an interview.
In a statement, director of mine safety Andrew Chaplyn confirmed the injured worker has left Australia and the department can no longer contact him.
There were only two other direct witnesses to the incident and one is now deceased.
“The department’s decision to investigate this case, and then prosecute the company for a breach of the Mines Safety and Inspection Act was based to some extent on the potential severity of the incident,” Mr Chaplyn said.
“The decision does not set a precedent.
“This is an unusual outcome based on a tragic circumstance.”
Worker rigged control levers for unmanned driving
A department incident report from October 2016 and obtained by the ABC alleges the drill offsider was tramming the tracked rig on his own and returning to the shore of the salt lake to refuel.
The report states both of the vehicle’s control levers were strapped into a position so that the vehicle could move forward without the offsider continuously holding the controls.
As another tracked vehicle approached, the offsider walked from his vehicle to talk to two other co-workers.
After a brief conversation, the offsider returned to his vehicle, which was still moving forward on its own.
He slipped and fell while trying to climb back into the cab.
The vehicle ran over him, with one of the tracks passing along the length of his body.
A person from the other vehicle managed to stop the unmanned vehicle, which was clear of the offsider.
“Fortunately, the ground was very soft and the offsider was pushed down into the ground by the vehicle’s track,” the incident report stated.
“He had injuries to his head and face, and a fractured hand.”
Mine inspectors found driller failed to follow procedures
The Department of Mines blamed the offsider for bypassing the “return to neutral” safety function of the control levers and climbing off the vehicle while it was still moving.
Its investigation found the vehicle’s enabling devices, or dead-man control levers, were modified, allowing the vehicle to move by itself without a person continuously holding the controls.
The report also found the vehicle’s safe operating procedures were not followed and the ladder to access the control cab had been removed for maintenance.
Raglan Drilling, one of the few drilling companies in the WA Goldfields that operates track-mounted rigs to enable mineral exploration on remote salt lakes, was contacted for comment.