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Hazelwood mine operator GDF Suez denies breaching fire safety regulations

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hazelwood coal mine operator GDF Suez has denied it breached Victorian regulations by not doing more to improve fire safety at the site.

A fire that started on February 9 in the mine near the town of Morwell burned for 45 days, covering the town in smoke and ash and causing health problems for residents.

In closing remarks on the final sitting day of an inquiry into the Hazelwood mine fire, GDF Suez lawyer Rachel Doyle said her client had complied with state regulations.

The inquiry had earlier been told the company did not replace water pipes in areas of the mine that caught fire during the blaze.

Ms Doyle said that under Victorian regulations the company was only required to implement fire control recommendations if it were considered reasonably practicable.

She said while people might say installing water pipes throughout the mine and rehabilitating non-operating areas would prevent a fire, there was no legal requirement for the operator to do so if the company considered it to be too expensive and the risk of harm from a fire was low.

"Nothing can convert any of that into a statutory obligation to implement risk control measures that are not reasonably practicable," Ms Doyle told the inquiry.

She said despite the lack of regulatory requirement, GDF Suez had learned from the blaze and would improve its fire prevention measures.

She said the mine's chief executive George Graham had made that commitment.

"The separate question of whether it's valuable to introduce more pipe work and whether wetting down non-operational [areas] will assist, has become a moot point because Mr Graham has said (he'll) do it," Ms Doyle said.

GDF Suez 'could do more' than required

The legal representative for the Victorian Government, Josh Wilson QC, said the mine could do more than the Government required.

"The days of regulation by prescription are gone," he said.

"Suez does not operate in a regulatory environment where it is only obliged to do and only does whatever is asked or [told] to do."

The Government has made a number of recommendations to reduce the risk of fire at the mine, including covering exposed coal and installing additional water points and water pipes.

It also planned to review the fire prevention strategies of sites across the state, including open cut coal mines.

"In addition to providing opportunities to intervene directly, this would also produce a clear picture of the state of risk as well as best practice," Mr Wilson said.

It will hand down its final report next month.

Courtesy:  ABC News


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