Near catastrophic miss claims 3 jobs
FWC finds the sacking of “celebrated” employee justified.
Tuesday 17 January 2017
A once “celebrated” employee who was invited to meet the Prime Minister in 2014 has failed in her attempt to overturn her dismissal by a contractor operating at the BHP owned Caval Ridge mine near Moranbah.
In February 2016, while working for Central Queensland Services Pty Ltd (CQS), Ms Sarah Engel was involved in a High Potential Incident (HPI) in which she and a shovel operator entered an exclusion zone set up around an explosive charge that had failed to explode during drill and blast activities (misfire).
In evidence tendered to the Fair Work Commission (FWC), it was revealed the shovel operator working at night, unknowingly dug through the misfire exclusion zone, and several hours later Ms Engel who was operating a bulldozer in support of the shovel also entered the exclusion zone.
However upon noticing cones set up to demarcate the dangerous area, and upon receiving secondary confirmation from a digital mapping service known as Minestar - Ms Engel realised she was within the exclusion zone and the danger she was in - and carefully followed her tracks out of the area without incident.
While no one was injured, there was a high risk of death or serious injury had the operation of the heavy machinery in the area set off the explosives.
It is compulsory that all HPI’s be reported immediately up through the management chain to ensure the risk is removed.
Following an initial investigation into the incident the shovel operator - who had 40 years experience - was dismissed.
After an expanded investigation Ms Engel was also dismissed because CQS felt she had failed to appropriately report the incident.
Ms Engel gave evidence that after the HPI, she immediately contacted the shovel operator in person, insisting that he let their supervisor (also dismissed over the incident) know what had happened. She also claimed that several hours later she heard a 2-way radio conversation between the operator and the supervisor discussing the incident.
At this point, she considered that the HPI had been effectively reported.
However, after a series of investigations by the Production Pre-strip superintendent, it was found by CQS that Ms Engel should have taken further direct steps to notify management of the HPI herself, rather than relying on the operator who she had observed to have been in a “trance-like “ state following the HPI.
While Ms Engel did argue that she had not specifically had training in the SOP for this particular event, she conceded that she knew about the danger of the misfire from other training, and a pre-start meeting that day.
The FWC said the Head of Improvement for CQS, Brooklyn Coyle - who was responsible for dismissing Ms Engel - felt she had no alternative other than terminating Ms Engel’s employment.
“Ms Coyle was of the view that Ms Engel either knew or should reasonably have been aware of the location of the exclusion zone and the misfire,” the commission reported.
“Ms Coyle considered that Ms Engel had enough information before her not to have gone into the misfire zone.
“She concluded that Ms Engel had failed to take appropriate action to report the incident, further, she concluded that Ms Engel had failed to disclose the conversation she held with Mr Andrews at 3.26am and overhearing the two-way radio conversation between Mr Andrews and Mr Graham at 4.08am.
“Ms Coyle considered Ms Engel’s actions in failing to report the incident unacceptable, and it is Ms Coyle’s evidence that she lost confidence in Ms Engel’s ability to perform her role safely.
"She did not hold any confidence that should Ms Engel perform work at the mine; a similar incident would not occur.”
While the FWC also considered a whole raft of other side issues, mitigating circumstances, work histories and questions about the fairness of the investigative process, it found they did not materially undermine the decision by CQS to sack Ms Engel.
The FWC concluded that the termination was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable because Ms Engel - among other reasons - failed to directly report the incident to Mr Graham (her supervisor) either over the two-way radio or in person.
She also failed to ensure Mr Andrews (the operator) reported the incident and the extent of the incident to Mr Graham adequately.“In failing to report the incident, [Ms Engel] exposed following shifts to a HPI until the incident was discovered,” Commissioner Hunt summed up.