In brief - Operator of petroleum lease prosecuted for safety
A coal seam gas (CSG) company was recently convicted and fined
for a safety breach during underground drilling work which resulted
in a fatality. In view of ongoing media scrutiny of the sector, it
is more vital than ever for CSG companies to ensure that safety
risks are being properly managed.
Attempts to dislodge underground pipe with chain attached to
excavator lead to fatality
Recent decisions of the Industrial Court of NSW confirm the
application of NSW safety laws to the coal seam gas industry.
The work crew undertaking underground pipe work was installing
pipes using a horizontal directional drilling machine. During the
process, a pipeline became stuck. Attempts were made to retrieve
the pipe by using a chain attached to an excavator to drag the pipe
A number of attempts were made to retrieve the pipe, however the
pipe sheared on a number of occasions. During the subsequent
retrieval process, the chain between the excavator and the pipe
failed. The pipe, whilst recoiling, came into contact with one of
the workers, causing fatal injuries.
Mining regulator investigates incident and prosecutes coal seam
Eastern Star Gas was the nominated operator of a petroleum
assessment lease and a petroleum exploration licence granted
pursuant to the
NSW Petroleum (Onshore) Act for land near Narrabri, in NSW.
These activities are managed by the Department of Trade and
Investment of NSW, which also investigated the incident and
commenced these prosecution proceedings.
The investigation revealed that gas and water gathering
pipelines were required to be installed at the Narrabri site and
Austerberry Directional Drilling Services Pty Ltd was engaged by a
related company to Eastern Star Gas to install a pipeline of 200mm
high density polyethylene pipe for a distance of between 280 and
350 metres under the Bohena Creek.
Companies in the CSG industry must comply with safety
requirements of the WHS Act
Business activities within the coal seam gas industry are now
governed by the safety requirements as set out in the NSW Work Health and Safety Act. The WHS Act has
broadened the application of the safety laws, so that the business
or undertaking (PCBU) is required to ensure, as far as reasonably
practicable, that the health and safety of persons are not put at
risk from the work carried out.
Officers of a PCBU are also required to have an effective due
diligence system in place to ensure that safety is being properly
managed for the business activities of the PCBU.
The recent media attention focused on the coal seam gas industry
will undoubtedly lead to a greater focus by the mining regulator
upon PCBUs in this industry, to ensure that PCBUs and their
officers are meeting their safety and environmental regulatory
CSG safety management systems should use current technology and
follow current codes of practice
In light of the above incident, it is recommended that if you
are a PCBU within the coal seam gas industry, you take steps to
ensure that your safety management system will implement the
appropriate risk management controls to manage the risks in
retrieving pipes that become stuck underground.
Further, officers of the PCBU should be asking operational staff
to advise if their safety management system is implementing best
practice in the conduct of the business. That is, are the business
activities utilising current technology, following current NSW
codes of practice and assessing new codes of practice being
released by Safe Work Australia and other safety regulators around
Bear in mind also that the WHS obligations apply to all
worksites, even when work activities are not occurring. It is
incumbent upon the PCBU in undertaking a worksite risk assessment
that the risk of other persons entering the site outside work hours
(both lawfully and unlawfully) is properly addressed.
It is recommended that PCBUs in the coal seam gas sector obtain
legal advice to ensure that they are meeting best practice in this
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