Perth parents hit out at six-figure fines

A Perth couple has slammed the fines imposed on two companies and a night shift supervisor over the death of their son at an underground mine in Western Australia’s Goldfields region.

Michael Johnson was killed on July 13, 2020, when his vehicle, called a bogger, drove over the edge of a void and fell 25 metres at the Whirling Dervish mine, about 120 kilometres north-east of Kalgoorlie.

The company which operates the mine, Nothern Star, the contractor who employed Mr Johnson, Byrnecut Australia, and the supervisor on duty on the night of the incident, Arsen Korzhov, all pleaded guilty to charges of failing to maintain a safe workplace.

Today the Perth Magistrates Court was told the void was created by accident when a new survey was being done on the site.

Despite it being a requirement, a “job hazard analysis” was not done.

Supervisor on break during fall
On the night of the incident, Mr Johnson, who was working the night shift, was given the task, along with Mr Korzhov, of building what is called a bund at the site, to stop vehicles from driving over the edge.

Around midnight Mr Johnson went to get his vehicle serviced and Mr Korzhov told him to let him know over the radio when he was on the way to the site.

Mr Korzhov, the court heard, then started to remove the existing mesh barrier and warning signage that were already in place.

However, he heard communications over the radio which led him to believe Mr Johnson was at least 30 minutes from the site, so he went on a break, leaving the edge exposed.

When Mr Korzhov returned about 20 minutes later, he saw Mr Johnson’s vehicle at the bottom of the void.

Today, lawyers for all three parties submitted that all their clients were sincerely and deeply apologetic and regretful for what had happened, and the effect it had on Mr Johnson’s family.

The lawyer for Byrnecut maintained that despite the breach, the company was committed to safety on its mine sites and since the accident had implemented new measures to try to prevent a death happening again.

An ‘inexplicable blunder’
Mr Korzhov’s counsel said his client had provided an affidavit to the court in which he said not a day went by that he didn’t wish Mr Johnson was alive, and he felt ashamed he would have to explain to his children what he had done.

The court heard Mr Korzhov had also now removed himself from mine sites and was working in an office environment.

Magistrate Gavin MacLean said each of the parties had made “some missteps” which had contributed to the “tragic” death of Mr Johnson.

However, he stressed that there was nothing the court could do to right the wrong that he his family had suffered.

Mr MacLean said a “job hazard analysis” would have led to safety procedures being put in place which the situation “called out for”, while he said Mr Korzhov had made an “inexplicable blunder”.

The charge the companies pleaded guilty to carries a maximum penalty of a $2 million fine while, the breach admitted by Mr Korzhov has a maximum of $80,000.

After taking into account their early guilty pleas and the parties’ prior good safety record, Magistrate MacLean fined Northern Star $700,000, Byrnecut $850,000 and Mr Korzhov, $20,000.

Parents blast fines
Mr Johnson’s parents, Steve and Carolyn, were in court for the sentencing and outside, they slammed the penalties.

“What was handed down, that’s just ridiculous,” Mr Johnson said

“They [the companies] make more than that in a day.

“Underground mining is inherently dangerous, and these people know it, and they’re just not doing the right thing.”

Mr Johnson fought back tears as he described Michael as a loving father and a good son.

He also claimed that since his son’s death, other miners in Australia and in Africa had died, but the cases were yet to reach court.

“That’s nine other families that are going through the same torment as us. It’s unnecessary,” he said.

Source: ABC News

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