A lawyer representing the sacked BHP train driver at the centre of November’s runaway train derailment has described his client’s dismissal as a classic case of an employer blaming the worker, not the system.
Perth lawyer Tim Kucera is representing the 63-year-old former BHP worker who was fired last month after an internal investigation into his actions on the day of the incident.
The West revealed on November 5 that the fully-laden 268-car iron ore train careered driverless for 50 minutes at an average speed of 110km/h before it was deliberately derailed about 120km south of Port Hedland.
BHP subsequently released a statement attributing the incident to a combination of mechanical failure and human error.
It is understood the South Australian-based employee was ordered by BHP’s remote operations centre to alight the locomotive and manually apply brakes to the train after braking system control cable became disconnected.
BHP’s initial findings on the incident show that he failed to engage the train’s emergency air brake, which the mining giant regards as standard operating procedure and the train began moving after the electric brakes disengaged an hour later while he was out of the cab.
Mr Kucera said it was unfair for the driver to be sacked when there were so many other variables at play.
“If you’re going to have a just safety culture, the starting point is you look at the entire system and that’s what we’re saying,” he said.
“It’s a classic case of: you have an accident, you blame the worker, not the system.
“It’s that whole culture of scapegoating… and that’s not consistent with the principles of a just safety culture.
“What you want to do is find out what went wrong and make sure it never ever happens again.”
Mr Kucera said there were many alternatives to sacking the worker, particularly someone who had experience, regretted the incident and was remorseful.
He said BHP was effectively washing its hands of the incident so it could tell the public and regulators that it had dealt with the problem.
Mr Kucera said the train driver, who he described as a family man, wanted to be reinstated by BHP, noting that it would be very difficult to find alternative employment in the rail industry given the profile attached to the incident.
“It’s an enormous amount of responsibility to place on one person, saying it’s worker error and we’ll just blame this person for the accident,” he said.
Mr Kucera also questioned whether it was safe for the worker to be ordered out of the locomotive in the first place, given he was in the middle of nowhere and on his own.
The unfair dismissal claim will go to an informal, confidential conciliation process but could go to arbitration in the Industrial Relations Commission if it is not resolved.
BHP declined to comment.