Australia’s state of Queensland has passed a law that will see mining executives spend up to 20 years in jail, and companies hit with fines of up to A$13 million (US$8.6 million), if they are found to be criminally negligent over deaths at their operations.
The legislation extended industrial manslaughter laws to the resources sector, as part of a package of safety and other reforms for an industry that employs 50,000 people in the state.
“This sends the clear message to employers and senior officers that the safety and health of their workers is paramount,” the state’s mines minister, Anthony Lynham, said.
Mining executives will now face 20 years behind bars if Queensland mine and quarry workers die as a result of criminal negligence.
“In the past two years we’ve had eight workers die, and a gas explosion in an underground coal mine has put five miners in hospital,” Lynham noted.
Earlier this month, an underground gas explosion at Anglo American’s (LSE: AAL) Grosvenor coal mine left five workers injured. Four of them remain in critical condition.
The previous maximum jail term for mining safety breaches was three years for multiple deaths.
The new laws, due to come into effect from July, include the creation of a new health and safety regulator. They also require people in critical safety roles in coal mines to be employees, not contract workers, so that they can flag safety issues. Although originally opposed to the tough new laws, the Queensland Resources Council has backed them.
The mining lobby group, which members include BHP (NYSE: BHP; LSE: BHP), Anglo American, Glencore (LSE: GLEN), Newmont (TSX: NGT; NYSE: NEM), Adani and MMG, vowed to work with authorities to make the industry safer.
Mine explosions have proved deadly in the past with one in Queensland’s Moura, in 1994, killing 11 men underground.