Fortescue restarts mining, defends safety culture, following fatal accident

Fortescue Metals Group has restarted surface mining and defended its safety culture following another fatal accident on its sites.

Late last month one worker, Allen Zuvela, was killed and another seriously injured at Fortescue’s Christmas Creek surface mining workshop following a crush incident.

“The man and a workmate were undertaking maintenance work on a surface miner when the accident occurred,” the company said in a statement at the time.

“The man’s workmate sustained leg injuries in the incident.”

Surface operations were quickly suspended and the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum brought in on site to investigate.

Four days later mining operations resumed, with the heavy vehicle workshop ‘released’.

Following the incident Fortescue said it was carrying out a review of its safety isolation and lock out procedures.

This second fatal accident at the site in less than six months raised a number of concerns, and brought to light claims of victimisation against those who spoke out over safety concerns, according to The Australian.

Speaking to The West Australian, WA DMP head mining engineer Simon Ridge said there were definitely “shortcomings in the cultural aspects” of safety, with DMP director general Richard Sellers explaining that there have been “discussions regarding smaller contractors and that FMG was committed to act should they not meet safety expectations”.

This has previously been demonstrated in Fortescue taking control of safety management of its ore processing away from contractor Crushing Services International after a fatal incident earlier this year.

One Australian Mining reader, Mervyn Sher, took the DMP and Fortescue to task over their safety record, stating that it was clear there had been concerns over safety during operations at Christmas Creek.

However it is not just Christmas Creek where safety concerns have been raised.

According to one Australian Mining source a serious incident occurred at FMG’s Cloudbreak operation a few months ago which narrowly avoided becoming a double fatality.

The source told Australian Mining that “months ago two operators from the CloudBreak operations were placed in harm’s way during a fire at the site”.

“Management placed the operators in the path of the fire with no fire fighting skills, in the dark, on contour terrain to cut a fire break. They became trapped by the fastest moving front and surrounded by fire.

“The fire engulfed both rubber tyred machines it was only the quick thinking of both operators to find areas with low scrub that luckily prevented two more fatalities.

“Other workers listening to the radio communication during the ordeal were traumatised. 

“Both operators believed that was the end for them.

“Management later described the response to the near double fatality a success.

“This is only one of many examples of a FMG management boys club covering up short cuts taken from poor planning and severe budget cuts to department’s like emergency services under the banner of frugality,” they stated.

Fortescue has stated that it is working towards addressing the cultural issues on site following a DMP directive to tighten its safety procedures across all its operations, and is investigating the workshop accident.

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