Australian state passes law to jail executives over mine deaths

MELBOURNE, May 20 (Reuters) - Australia’s Queensland state passed new mine safety laws on Wednesday that would see company executives jailed for up to 20 years if workers die due to criminal negligence, following a spate of mine deaths.

The legislation extended industrial manslaughter laws to the mining sector, as part of a package of safety and other reforms for an industry that employees 50,000 people in the state.

“This offence sends the clear message to employers and senior officers that the safety and health of their workers is paramount,” the state’s mines minister Anthony Lynham said in a statement.

“In the past two years we’ve had eight workers die, and a gas explosion in an underground coal mine has put five miners in hospital. It’s not acceptable,” he said.

Four of the five workers injured in the explosion at Anglo American’s Grosvenor coal mine on May 6 are still in a critical condition.

Anglo American declined to comment on the new legislation. The Grosvenor mine remains closed while the company and regulators investigate the incident.

The reforms, due to come into effect from July, include the establishment of a new health and safety regulator, and require people in critical safety roles in coal mines to be employees, not contract workers, to help them raise safety issues.

Mining lobby group, the Queensland Resources Council, said in a statement it would work with authorities to make the industry safe.

“(The council) believes those who work in the industry, whether on mine sites or in offices, do their best and all within their power and responsibility to keep each other safe.”

Reporting by Melanie Burton; editing by Richard Pullin