Three men survive explosion on government hydro project: State blasted for slow response

Mar 4, 2024

PRESSURE is mounting on both the Queensland and the Commonwealth Governments to intervene and immediately suspend works on a government-backed hydro project after an alleged misinformed explosion nearly killed three workers.

Three underground workers at the State Government-funded Kidston Pumped Storage Hydro Project are lucky to be alive after explosives were set off while they were still on site on Friday, February 23.

The underground workers are night-shift workers who were operating at 300m below ground. Due to finish at 5.30am, at about 5am, they felt rumblings and heard the explosion, terrifyingly while still underground themselves.

CFMEU Regional workplace health and safety coordinator Mick Robinson said the men then drove back up to the base where they were then notified explosives had been set off at 330m, shockingly just 30m below them.

“When they got back up the workers confirmed their ‘cards were on the wall’ and vehicle numbers were logged,” Mr Robinson said.

“It should have been known they were still down there.”

Mr Robinson said while the three underground workers were fortunate to escape without physical injury, understandably they were mentally shaken up.

One week after the incident, Mr Robinson said the State Government’s response to the explosion had been absolutely dismal, with no confirmation as of 3pm Friday, March 1 whether a State Department officer or investigator had set foot on the Kidston site.

“It was first reported to the State Workplace Health and Safety Department on the Friday (February 23), and then again on the Monday, and then on Wednesday. Nothing, no response, no investigation.

“Then a distressed relative of one of the workers got in touch with CFMEU Townsville and since then we’ve been told it isn’t under the State WHS jurisdiction, but comes under Resources Safety and Health Queensland. That was on the Thursday, so it took six days for the State departments to acknowledge the incident. Whether someone has been out there, we still don’t know.”

Mr Robinson said the ignorance towards the workers’ wellbeing was shocking.

“They’re only supposed to work 14-day fortnights but had agreed to do another week. And since this has happened, they’re still going to work. There’s been no counselling, no checks, no medical assistance.

“It’s taken six days for the government to even notice. The site should have been shut down immediately.

“We’re still calling for an immediate shutdown, so there can be a full safety reset, a review of how this was allowed to happen, new protocols put in place and full safety retraining for everyone so it doesn’t happen again.”

Mr Robinson also alerted Katter’s Australian Party Federal MP Bob Katter who has notified the Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.

“I make no apologies for praising the work of Mick Robinson of the CFMEU for getting onto this,” Mr Katter said.

“An explosion occurred and it was a miracle they weren’t killed.   It was the nearest of near misses, and it is prima facie evidence that there is a serious neglect of safety that is taking place at Kidston.

“I’m very disappointed that calls to the state ministers and their departments had not been answered when there’s every likelihood that there is a continuing situation of dangerous conduct.”

Katter’s Australian Party leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter said “thankfully no one got hurt” and that the facts surrounding this incident were nothing short of astonishing.

“It’s astonishing that the companies involved, wouldn’t themselves had made a bigger deal internally, including shutting the operations down until this was investigated,” Robbie Katter said.

“But it is equally astonishing that there’s been no reprimand or reaction from the government until they were vigorously jerked into gear.

“But further, it appears to me there seems to be a second set of rules for any of these renewable energy projects. There’s minimal scrutiny and approvals needed, it just seems like the approach is ‘don’t get in the way, we need to get this thing off the ground’.”

The State Government project is a 250MW pumped hydro storage facility, being built on the old Kidston gold mine, about 280km northwest of Townsville. It includes underground components such as turbines and their associated tunnels for construction.