MAC: Mines and Communities


Published by MAC on 2006-05-31


By CHRIS SALTER, The Advertiser

31st May 2006

CRIMINAL charges have been laid against mining giant BHP Billiton over an explosion at the Olympic Dam mine that killed a father of two children.

The company - which operates the Roxby Downs uranium, copper and gold mine - has been charged with three counts of breaching the Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Act.

It is alleged the company failed to provide a safe work environment for three miners, including Karl Eibl who died after an explosion 500m underground on July 19 last year.

If found guilty, the company faces fines of up to $300,000.

The charges have been laid in the Industrial Relations Court following a report from SafeWork SA.

The court action comes as Karl Eibl's father, Bob, expressed his anger at not being able to obtain information regarding his son's death.

Almost a year since the explosion, he has been forced to lodge a freedom of information request with SafeWork SA to view its findings.

"There's no mention of what will happen," Mr Eibl said.

"We have only just got the coroner's report."

A SafeWork SA spokeswoman said it was procedure not to issue findings when legal action was pending.

"If there is no proposed legal action after an investigation is completed, the family is given the factual report on request," she said.

A coronial investigation into the Olympic Dam incident found Mr Eibl, 34, suffocated on dust caused by the explosion. Mr Eibl, who had worked at the mine for 12 years, was laying charges to connect two tunnels when machinery operated by two men drilling on the other side of the tunnel touched the charge, causing the explosion.

Mr Eibl, husband to Mandy and father of Nicholas, 8, and Liam, 6, died instantly.

The two other workers were taken to hospital after being overcome with toxic fumes.

Mine management told the Eibl family there was supposed to be a safe distance of 40m between those drilling and Mr Eibl. A miscalculation meant there was a distance of only about two metres.

Mr Eibl snr welcomed the court action but said: "A fine of $100,000 to them is like a cup of coffee to us. Unless they have to pay a substantial amount of money or get punished somehow, it will happen again. No amount of money is worth a life."

Mr Eibl said he would await the outcome of the court proceedings before deciding if he would lodge civil action.

BHP spokesman Richard Yeeles said it would be inappropriate for the company to comment on the incident while it was before the court.

A hearing is scheduled for the Industrial Relations Court next month. Located 560km north of Adelaide, Olympic Dam is the world's fourth-largest remaining copper deposit and the largest uranium deposit. It employs more than 3000 people.

A new support group for people who have lost family members in workplace accidents held its first meeting last night. Voice of Industrial Death was founded by Andrea Madeley whose son, Daniel, 18, died in an industrial accident. Independent MLC Nick Xenophon, who helped set up VOID, said the group could be contacted on 8237 9112.Ekati mine owner sues striking workers.

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