The Queensland Government has given its support to a series of new laws that increase the maximum fines the state can give to mining operators who fail to adequately protect their workers.

The state government has made changes to the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act and the Quarrying Safety and Health Act (both signed into law in 1999) to impose stricter penalties on mine owners.

Inspectors will now be empowered to issue out-of-court fines of up to A$130,550 for what the government calls “serious” health and safety breaches, and companies taken to court for negligence can now face fines of up to A$3.9m. Individuals found guilty of breaking the law can be fined up to A$783,300, or be imprisoned for up to three years.

“This helps to protect those who work, day after day managing the unique hazards and risks of mining, and the social fabric of families and communities around our mining workers,” said mines minister Dr Anthony Lynham. “It also helps to bolster the reputation of the mining industry which forms a substantial part of Queensland’s economic prosperity.”

The new laws also empower the state government to suspend certificates of competency in the case of health and safety breaches, require mine operators to provide training to ventilation officers, and add “health surveillance” to the aims of the 1999 acts to ensure potential health and safety risks can be monitored and identified quickly, to minimise danger to workers.

The announcement follows mixed years for Queensland’s mining sector. According to the government’s annual health and safety report, the number of days lost to lost time injuries in mines and quarries fell from 13,392 in 2015-16 to 8,608 in 2016-17. The number of permanent incapacities fell significantly from 87 to 31 across the same period.

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However, there were increases in the raw number of lost time injuries, which rose from 266 to 269, as well as serious accidents, up from 65 to 75.

The number of fatalities also increased from zero to two over this period, with both occurring at surface operations.

Additionally, several accidents involving heavy equipment have been reported in the state this year, including a worker trapped in a conveyor belt at Glencore’s Collinsville mine in February, and a vehicle collision at the Batchfire-owned Callide project in March.

While none of these accidents resulted in deaths, Lynham announced a commitment to tightening up safety regulation in response to the dangers posed by technology and machinery.

“Mine sites have transformed significantly in the last 20 years, with more automation and technology and more specialist contractors from numerous companies on site at any one time to manage these systems.”

Mining Technology’s Mining Safety content is supported by USA mining safety specialists Carroll Technologies Group.