One of the state’s largest underground mines and its principal underground mining contractor has agreed to spend more than $780,000 on safety improvements following two unplanned explosions in the Far North of South Australia in 2020.

Prominent Hill at sunset. Photo credit: Oz Minerals

SafeWork SA last month accepted an Enforceable Undertaking by mining company Oz Minerals and its principal underground mining contractor Byrnecut Australia following an underground incident at the Prominent Hill mine on 29 October 2020.

The two unplanned explosions occurred about 4.15pm and underground mine workers reported blast fumes that sparked a mine emergency, resulting in all personnel being directed to refuge chambers.

SafeWork SA was notified following the event and an investigation was initiated.

No one was injured in the incident and no mining equipment was damaged.

The copper, gold and silver mine is about 650km north-west of Adelaide and is one of the largest mines in South Australia. It produced 25,396 tonnes of copper and 59,169 ounces of gold in the six months to 30 June 2022.

While no charges of the Work Health and Safety Act, 2012 (SA) (the Act) have been laid, Byrnecut Australia and Oz Minerals understand the characterisation of an allegation that could be made with respect to the incident.

Under the terms of the Enforceable Undertaking, Byrnecut Australia has agreed to make 16 work practice rectifications, and increase spending on safety with an estimated total cost of $627,000.

The spend includes the establishment of a training centre in Adelaide, modelled on its existing Perth centre, which opened in 2019.

Adelaide-based Oz Minerals’ reparations at Prominent Hill total $156,845 and include:

  • establishing a hard-lock firing function for underground purposes
  • the procurement of additional wireless blasting hardware
  • upgrading the mains firing line to move to a segregated district model.

SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said an Enforceable Undertaking was appropriate in this case, given there were no injuries, the effectiveness of the undertakings and the significant commitment by both companies to improve their processes at Prominent Hill and the wider industry.

He said an Enforceable Undertaking ensured money would be directed toward improving worker and industry safety rather than defending a charge in court and any pecuniary penalty.

‘The potential for serious injury from this event was present, but Byrnecut Australia and Oz Minerals were able to offer an undertaking to make significant changes to their processes to improve work practices and safety at the Prominent Hill mine and across the broader mining industry,’ Mr Campbell said.

Refer to the Enforceable Undertaking page on the SafeWork SA website for the specific terms of the DPTI Enforceable Undertaking.