Three years ago WA's Department of Mines and
Petroleum set up an Investigations Branch to gather the necessary
evidence to prosecute resources companies for workplace safety
Given it takes around three years to investigate an
incident and determine whether criminal charges will be pursued, it
seems likely there will be a significant rise in safety-related
prosecutions in WA's energy and resources sector in
Businesses that have had a serious safety incident since
mid-2011 should be ready to respond if the prosecutor knocks on
their door next year.
Energy and resources safety in Western Australia has always had
its own specific regulatory regime and specialist regulator,
currently the Department of Mines and Petroleum
As its name suggests, the DMP (and more particularly its
Resources Safety Division) is responsible for enforcing workplace
safety for both mines and also petroleum operations. This includes
onshore oil and gas operations, pipelines and oil and gas
operations within State waters.
The Department also regulates the storage and transportation of
Regardless of the specific nature of the resource activity (be
it mining, oil and gas operations or pipelines), employers,
operators, and principals have essentially the same duty: to
ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers and
others within the workplace are not exposed to hazards.
A failure to satisfy this duty can result in criminal charges
being laid, and if convicted, fines and, in some cases,
Criminal charges can be brought against not only the company or
companies responsible for the employees, or in control of the
workplace, but also to the officers and managers of those
Similarly, a failure to comply with regulatory requirements
governing the storage and transportation of dangerous goods, which
by its nature is relevant to the energy and resources industry,
also exposes the company and individual officers and managers to
In July 2011, the DMP established a specialist Investigations
Branch which has been staffed by professional investigators with
extensive investigation experience. Since then the Branch has
conducted or reviewed all investigations into serious and
potentially serious accidents within Resource Safety's three
operational Branches (Mines Safety, Petroleum Safety and Dangerous
Investigations have been better resourced and more focus given
to gathering evidence that will lead to prosecutions under the
All accidents that have occurred since mid-2011 have been
investigated or reviewed by the Investigations Branch. This means
that decisions will soon be taken as to whether prosecutions in
relation to these investigations will be launched. .
It usually takes two to three years to determine whether
criminal charges will be pursued. Given this timing, it seems
likely the energy and resources industries will see a far greater
rate of prosecutions commenced in 2014 than before.
This is particularly so in relation to mines safety which has a
3 year prescribed limitation period for the DMP to commence
Energy and resources businesses that have experienced a serious
workplace safety incident since mid-2011 should now be preparing
themselves to respond in an informed way if the prosecutor knocks
on their door next year. Some simple preparatory steps might
Checking that the internal investigation file is easily
accessible and in a logical and useable form;
Identifying if recommended actions to improve safety systems
and practices have been closed out, how and when;
Identifying whether employees involved at the time are still
available to discuss the incident and how they can be contacted;
Ensuring that there is a clear understanding between the
company HSE and legal functions as to how the matter will be
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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