Mining giant failed to disclose positive result says whistleblower

January 24, 2022 Richard Szabo

A multinational resources company withheld information on a workplace infection at a Central Queensland coal mine, an insider alleged.

One employee has accused BHP of failing to disclose at least one positive coronavirus (COVID-19) case at the Peak Downs Coal Mine in Winchester, 209km southwest of Mackay.

The whistleblower claimed one of his colleagues tested positive to COVID-19 on January 17. Company management allegedly did not immediately inform the team, preventing close contacts from obtaining a rapid antigen test result on the same day.

“Had they told us at the end of the shift on Monday afternoon, I guarantee you every crew member would have got themselves tested at camp. We all would have got ourselves tested that evening and, then the following morning, to ensure that we were not positive – and it sort of would have been business as usual,” the individual who wishes to remain anonymous told News Limited.

Colleagues have expressed disappointment with BHP’s lack of transparency in delivering important updates in a timely manner.

“The crew feels like the withholding of the information regarding COVID is due to the fact that they [management] do not want the utilisation to suffer anymore than what it is,” the whistleblower said. “It is disgusting that your employer is not providing that information; it is our health and safety and wellbeing and, not only ours, but our families’ as well.”

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) suggested multiple employers have “dropped the ball” on hygiene, social distancing and other COVID-19 control measures. Some workplaces still have not updated risk management plans in response to the Omicron variant, potentially exposing more workers to the highly contagious strain.

“Workers, who would be considered a close contact in an office setting for four hours, are [sometimes] not considered a close contact if they have worked on a piece of machinery together for 10 hours which is absurd,” CFMEU Queensland district president Stephen Smyth said in a public statement. “Rapid testing is not consistent in terms of what is required and when it should be done, with some workers unable to take tests as they are not available and others expected to undertake testing in their own time.”

Smyth suggested all proponents should have implemented rapid testing, social distancing, N95 face masks, deep cleaning and other COVID safety measures by now. He urged the Resources Safety and Health Queensland Mines Inspectorate to do more to keep workplaces safe.

“They need to step up and start holding mining companies to account for having appropriate COVID safety plans in place and implementing them,” he said.

BHP completely dismissed all of the claims, saying the Peak Downs crew is already aware of the infected worker in question.

“As positive COVID-19 cases become more common in Queensland we are increasing our controls to protect our workplaces, workers and communities while we continue to operate safely,” a BHP Mitsubishi Alliance spokesperson told News Limited.

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