Union safety blast for FMG

Nick Evans and Kim Macdonald

Unions have renewed their criticism of safety standards at Fortescue Metals Group mines, saying the company's decision to take control of an ore processing facility that was the scene of WA's first mine site death in two years vindicated their concerns.

Fortescue said yesterday it had taken over management and supervision of two ore facilities run by Mineral Resources subsidiary Crushing Services International - five weeks after New Zealand-born electrical engineer Kurt Williams was crushed while working alone on one of them.

It cited the need to ensure their "safe and hazard-free operation".

Electrical Trades Union acting secretary Jim Murie said the move vindicated the union's long-running concerns about CSI, after Fortescue chairman Andrew Forrest, speaking after the tragedy, accused union officials of seeking to exploit the death to "scavenge publicity".

Mr Murie said FMG was wrong to criticise the union for raising legitimate safety concerns, describing Mr Forrest's comments as an attempt to "muddy the waters".

"They wanted to make out that there was some kind of vindictiveness on behalf of the union," Mr Murie said.

"But there never should have been an electrician working alone, at night, while the plant was in production mode.

"It's just too dangerous and we told them that before the accident."

The Department of Mines and Petroleum is still investigating the death. A spokeswoman would not comment on speculation its investigation had sparked the Fortescue move.

Other than a short statement to the Australian Securities Exchange yesterday, saying the move was made with the full co-operation of CSI and MinRes, Fortescue would not comment further on the reason for its decision.

Despite saying it expected the step-in to be resolved shortly, and that it did not expect the move to materially impact on its contract revenue and profits, MinRes shares were battered yesterday, closing down $1.11, or 9.2 per cent, to $10.95. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Murie renewed union calls for an end to single worker night shifts.

The union has launched legal action against FMG in the Federal Court for delaying it access to the site immediately after the accident.

ETU State Secretary Les McLaughlan had been denied access to the site for six days.

FMG said it complied with its legal obligations regarding union access.