BHP workers win jobs back after breaches

For the second time in as many weeks, BHP Billiton mine workers sacked for breaching safety rules have won their jobs back, after the Fair Work Commission ruled firing the men was unduly harsh.

Harley Schofield and Mark Winterton were sacked in March from their jobs at Broadmeadow Mine Services, which employs workers at the BHP BIlliton-Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) mine at Broadmeadow.

They were dismissed after breaching one of BMA’s seven life-saving rules at the site, relating to guarding against falls and falling objects.

The decision followed a similar case, where two workers at a BMA site won their jobs back after the commission ruled it was unduly harsh to sack the workers for using their phones on site in breach of safety rules.

Mr Winterton, a fitter, and Mr Schofield, a diesel technician, had worked for BMA for five years and about 18 months respectively and neither had any safety or disciplinary blemishes on their records.

Both were aware of BMA’s policies on working from heights, which required steps to mitigate hazards, such as the use of work baskets or harnesses.

However, the pair, with a manager, used the roof of a mine vehicle, known as a drifty, as a work platform to carry out maintenance.

Mr Winterton told the commission he had done this before and believed it was accepted practice, partly because he believed the roof platform was lower than 1.8 metres.

A more senior manager arrived at the site and demanded work cease. Following an investigation Mr Winterton and Mr Schofield’s supervisor resigned.

The mine’s senior HR business partner, Kristi Gooch, found their conduct “reckless and grossly negligent”, on the basis that the men knew the rules and failed to identify a hazard that a competent mineworker would have recognised.

The company said it had lost faith in the men to perform their jobs competently and without endangering themselves or others and their employment was terminated.

The men told the commission they had struggled since to find employment.

Commission vice-president Adam Hatcher found the dismissals had a valid reason but were unduly harsh because a manager had proposed the use of the drifty and it was also not obvious that the 195cm-high roof platform was above the 180cm trigger height for BMA’s rules.

It was also well below the statutory guide for working at heights of 240cm, Mr Hatcher found, adding that other employees had breached the rules without being fired.

He ordered the two men should get their jobs back but not get compensated for lost wages, given their conduct was negligent.

A BHP spokeswoman said BMA’s “first and foremost consideration” was the health and safety of employees.

“We welcome the opportunity to continually improve our health and safety policies and procedures, and will take feedback by the Fair Work Commission into account as part of this ongoing process,” she said.