MEDIA RELEASE: Lead exposure concerns on Aburri barge highlight need for reform of Northern Territory safety regulator: Maritime union

Concerns have been raised about the lack of maritime expertise among inspectors from the Northern Territory safety regulator following reports by former crew members of safety concerns involving the transfer of lead-zinc concentrate from the McArthur River Mine.

The Maritime Union of Australia said safety concerns raised by former crew members of the Aburri barge, which takes concentrate from the mine to bulk carriers offshore, highlighted the need for an urgent overhaul of workplace health and safety regulation by the NT Government.

The union said a lack of maritime expertise among NT WorkSafe inspectors was regularly hampering the agency’s ability to protect the safety of local workers in the sector.

MUA NT secretary Thomas Mayor said he was concerned by reports that lead-zinc concentrate was blowing over workers and into the sea while being transferred from the Aburri barge to bulk carriers.

“Reports of lead contamination issues from former workers on the Aburri barge are deeply concerning, but they also raise a bigger issue of whether the safety regulator has the resources and industry knowledge to ensure workers and the environment are properly protected,” Mr Mayor said.

“In recent years, workers on the Aburri barge decided to unionise, which has resulted in vastly improved safety conditions, but there is still a long way to go to ensure our members are protected from the risks posed during the transfer of lead-zinc concentrate.

“The safety of workers and protection of the environment must be priorities for management of the Aburri barge and the McArthur River Mine, and our members should be properly consulted to ensure safety issues are identified and rectified as soon as possible.”

Mr Mayor said the union was keenly awaiting the outcome of the independent review of workplace health and safety being conducted by Tim Lyons, announced by the NT Government in May, but the real test would be whether its recommendations were acted upon.

“A review of our broken health and safety system is long overdue, but unless the NT Government takes those recommendations and turns them into practical reforms to how safety laws are enforced, workers will continue to have their health put at risk,” he said.

“Instead of a tough cop on the beat, too often we have seen Federal and NT safety regulators struggling to properly investigate fatalities and major incidents because they lack the industry expertise and resources to properly identify problems and implement actions to fix them.”


Media comment: Thomas Mayor — 0437 650 221