Worksafe lays charges over Hazelwood coal mine fire

Hazelwood Power Corporation will soon face charges from Worksafe Victoria over the coal mine fire that smothered Morwell of coal smoke and caused extensive health problems among workers and the public.

The safety watchdog will file a series of charges today which relate to the company’s failure to provide a safe workplace and exposing the community to health risks.

The Age reported these will be the first formal legal charges made against Hazelwood and majority owner GDF Suez.

Investigations over the past two years have shown the mine lacked readily available firefighting equipment, such as compressed air foam systems relevant to best practice for brown coal firefighting.

In his investigative work The Coal Face, PhD candidate Tom Doig reported that firefighting equipment had been removed from the mine over the years leading up to the fire, and had not been replaced, leaving the mine vulnerable to sparks and burning material from bushfires.

The Hazelwood coal mine burned for 45 days after it was ignited by flying embers from nearby bushfire.

Workers battling the blaze suffered smoke inhalation, and locals in nearby Morwell experienced numerous health problems associated with coal smoke and the acidic ash that covered everything in the town.

The Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry found that the mine fire had contributed to an increase in deaths in the Latrobe Valley area, as compared to previous years.

At present the Country Fire Authority in in a legal dispute seeking costs for firefighting from GDF Suez, a bill worth $18 million, however the company has said it should not have to pay.

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