Friday 29th April 2022 from 9am

Wills & Estates Senior Associate Debbie Sage will join Robyn Hyland to talk about the importance of planning for end-of-life care and what options are available.

Fatal coal accident sparks debate on safety reforms in mining industry


In the wake of yet another fatality at a Queensland mine site, Attwood Marshall Lawyers Compensation Law Partner Jeremy Roche looks at workplace health and safety issues in the mining sector and the stark reality of the dangers mining workers face in this dangerous industry.

The safety of the mining industry has once again fallen under sharp scrutiny, following a horrific fatal incident at BMA’s Saraji mine in Drysart, Queensland, that led to the death of a young Mackay man.

The 27-year-old worker was crushed between two vehicles in a fuel-bay area of the coal mine on the afternoon of 15 January 2024. He died from his injuries in hospital later that night.

The mining industry claims to have made significant improvements in health and safety over the last decade, reducing the incidence rate of both fatalities and serious injuries. However, the industry remains a notoriously dangerous one to work in and continues to rank in the top six of all industries that suffer the highest worker fatality rates in Australia.

Here, we look at the state of reforms aimed at improving the safety culture of the mining industry, and the different compensation options available for those affected by catastrophic workplace injuries and fatalities.

Safety inquiry into Queensland mining sector

Every worker has the right to return home safe and healthy at the end of each day. Yet there are countless stories of workers in the mining sector suffering from serious injuries, mental health conditions, and tragic deaths.

It has nearly been a year since the Resources and Transport Parliamentary Committee published its findings from a sprawling six-month inquiry into the coal mining industry’s health and safety culture.

During the public hearings, one miner talked about a tick-box culture and how workers are incentivised not to report incidents or injuries. He accused mining companies of paying “lip service” to safety improvements that don’t filter down to those on the ground.

The committee tabled 11 recommendations. These were published in February 2023, calling for legislative change, more independent research into the relationship between production rates and safety risk management, and directing more money to the industry regulator Resources Safety and Health Queensland (RSHQ). The committee also urged RSHQ to increase the number of surprise inspections it carried out at mining sites from 10-20 per cent of all inspections, to 25 per cent by 2023-24.

The RSHQ has since responded, asserting in its latest annual report that it has analysed data and will not increase the number of unannounced inspections it carries out per year.

In the time since the report was tabled, some legislative change has occurred. For example, In September 2023, the RSHQ published draft amendments to the Resources Safety and Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 and its parallel regulations, to legislate several recommendations including the introduction of critical control management, better information sharing processes and improved data and incident reporting.

The Queensland government also introduced the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 in November, to incorporate new responsibilities and penalties for employers.

As of February 2023, when the parliamentary committee report was tabled, there were 66 working coal mines in Queensland. With close to 50 more coal projects also on the way, scrutiny is building for how the industry will meet its goal of zero serious harm to workers.

The report said that since 2000 there have been 26 fatalities in Queensland coal mines, with four taking place between 2020 and 2022.

We know that in the year that has since passed, there have been three more names added to that regrettable tally.

In regards to the Drysart mine fatality, the RSHQ has since released a safety notice into the incident, saying it is looking at how the 27-year-old was struck and why he was between the two vehicles, and urging senior executives on-site to ensure that their coal mine workers and supervisors use the risk controls in their safety and health management system for every work activity.

What compensation is available when tragedy strikes at work?

The most common deaths or physical injuries suffered by mining workers are usually a result of vehicle collisions, followed closely by falls from height, being injured by falling objects, and body stressing injuries from heavy manual labour.

When a tragic accident occurs at work, understanding the compensation available and navigating through the compensation process can be a challenging journey, involving complex legal procedures and stringent requirements.

However, there is help available. Personal injury lawyers help navigate through the complexities, taking on profitable mining companies and their deep pocketed insurers to advocate for the rights of workers and their families, ensuring they receive the compensation they need and deserve.

If you are injured at work, there are different types of WorkCover claims you can apply for depending on the extent of your injuries, the circumstances around how your injury occurred, and what benefits you may need to support your recovery. Many mining cases involve making a common law Workcover claim (i.e. against an employer) as well as a concurrent public liability claim (e.g. against the mine site operator) for the injuries and/or losses sustained.

And if the accident has led to a preventable death? Here are two other options for those close ones left behind:

1. Dependency claims if your loved one loses their life at work

WorkCover Death Benefit Claims and/or common law dependency claims can understandably be extremely difficult to work through, especially when dependents are grieving the loss of a loved one.

When a family loses the ‘breadwinner’ of the household, it can have a devastating financial impact on the lives of the spouse and children left behind. Not only must the grieving family deal with the loss of a loved one, but the stark reality of financial survival can also add another layer of uncertainty and anxiety for the family.

While the process for prosecuting dependency claims may seem difficult to overcome, help is available to assist you through the most difficult of times.

With the support of a specialist compensation lawyer, a grieving family can take comfort in knowing they have a professional on their side who will support them every step of the way and handle the day-to-day interactions and all negotiations on their behalf.  

Mining accident claims are often particularly complex, and it is vital to obtain assistance from an experienced legal expert with specific expertise in mining accident claims. Often these claims are sufficiently complex as to require an Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law to be on your side to ensure an easier claims process and the optimum outcome being achieved.

2. Nervous shock claims for loved ones and witnesses to the fatal event

In the mining industry, individuals who have proximity to a fatality or a catastrophic event, such as discovering a deceased co-worker or participating in the search for a body after an incident, may experience severe psychological effects.

Compensation is also available for anyone who witnessed a catastrophic work-related accident in circumstances where the tragedy resulting in them suffering psychiatric injury.

We recently acted for a young worker who witnessed the death of his co-worker in a mining fatality and suffered lifelong PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a result, incurring insurmountable medical costs and a catastrophic reduction of any future earning capacity. This was shortly after acting for two workers who suffered lifelong, catastrophic and career-ending injuries as a result of alarmingly neglectful workplace practices in obviously dangerous circumstances.

Bringing a nervous shock claim against WorkCover and/or a mine’s public liability insurer presents many hurdles. The whole process can be emotionally taxing for already traumatised individuals who must repeatedly recount their traumatic experience while an insurer’s legal and medical teams pick apart their mental health history to try and make connections unrelated to the event.

Having a supportive advocate is crucial. Skilled personal injury lawyers can offer expertise to guide individuals through the process with compassion and support and ensure that any compensation that they are entitled to can be obtained.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers – experts in handling Mining Accident claims

Sadly, work-related fatalities continue to occur despite stringent regulations, technological improvements, and rigorous health and safety protocols being in place.

We see far too many families grieving the loss of a loved one, and too many workers with life-altering and career-ending catastrophic injuries, trying to piece their lives back together to recover from accidents that should have been avoided.

We are passionate about helping injured workers obtain meaningful compensation to get the treatment they need and financial security they deserve following mining accidents. In the case of tragic workplace deaths, we work determinedly to ensure the families left behind receive the best outcomes possible not only in terms of monetary compensation but with surviving through the most heart-breaking and difficult of times.

With a long and storied history acting for mining workers, and their families, over many decades all around Australia, Attwood Marshall Lawyers is committed to assisting anyone injured or killed in these often preventable and always devastating mining accidents.

We offer a free initial no-obligation consultation so that you can get answers to any questions you may have and get your claim underway as quickly as possible. We also operate on a No Win, No Fee basis for all workers’ compensation claims.

If you have sustained an injury in the workplace and need some thorough, no obligation advice, please contact our Compensation Law Department on 1800 621 071.

Share this article

Jeremy Roche - Partner - Compensation Law

Jeremy Roche

Compensation Law

Contact the author

The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

Brisbane Employment Law

Employment Law Sydney

Gold Coast Employment Law

Defamation Law

Employment Law

Download a Brochure

Please enter your details below and
a link will be emailed to you
Download Form

Compensation Law

Select your state