Coal Miners' Compensation - working 'in or about' a coal mine

The question of who is a coal miner may seem like a simple concept however it one that has been dissected in the Courts over the years. The relevance relates to a unique structure of compensation entitlements available to injured coal miners which has arisen due to historical legislative changes. If you are injured 'in or about' a coal mine, your rights are unique.   

So what does it mean to work in or about a coal mine?

Firstly, a mine is defined in the legislation as any place, land building, structure, pit, shaft, drive, level, drift, excavation and work on or in which, or whereby, any operation for or in connection with mining is carried on and any pipe, conveyer or ropeway used for the conveyance of coal or stone, but does not include some coal preparation plants.

In an interesting case of Select Civil (Kiama) Pty Ltd v Kearney [2012] NSWCA 320, the Plaintiff was injured whilst undertaking site rehabilitation work at a coal mine where operations has been discontinued. The Kemira Colliery operated between 1848 and 1991 but was sealed off in 1995. The plaintiff was injured on 10 April 2006. The primary Judge found that the plaintiff was a coal miner and this was upheld on appeal. His Honour Judge Macfarlan stated: “A mine does not cease to be a mine immediately upon the cessation of extraction of minerals. It continues to have that character at least whilst equipment is packed up and the site is rehabilitated”.

The case law has also confirmed that the injured worker does not necessarily need to be employed by the coal mine operator. In 2005 the New South Wales Court of Appeal handed down a decision of Ellavale Engineering Pty Limited v Pilgram [2005] NSWCA 272. In this case, the plaintiff was employed by a business involved in the overhaul maintenance and breakdown work on equipment used in various coal mines. The work was required to be carried out on a mine site and the plaintiff sustained injury whilst on the mine site. The Court held that the plaintiff was a coal miner and that the focus is not on the timeframe of work performed but rather the work actually being performed by the worker.

A more recent case was determined in the Court of Appeal in December 2013, Waratah Engineering Pty Ltd v Baggs [2013] NSWCA 427. The employer’s principal place of business was at Argenton in NSW and the business manufactured, supplied and maintained underground mining equipment both in NSW and New Zealand. In July 2010 Mr Baggs travelled to New Zealand and was on his way to the Pike River coal mine when he was involved in a motor vehicle accident. At first instance, the primary Judge found that Mr Baggs was a coal miner. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, 2 out of 3 Judges dismissed the appeal and held that he was not a deemed coal miner.

Meagher JA found that the correct question to be considered was “whether at the time the accident happened the work in which Mr Baggs was engaged was being undertaken in or in physical proximity to the mine and for the purpose connected with the business or operation of the mine”. He held: “At the time of the accident Mr Baggs was travelling to the mine by road. He had not commenced any activity or duty at the mine or party of the mining operation”.

The case law continues to shape the definition of who is a ‘deemed’ coal miner and reinforces the fact that the answer to this question is often multifaceted.  The rights of those injured in the NSW coal industry are inimitable and indicative of the uniqueness of this industry on the whole. 

If you would like to discuss your entitlements to compensation as an injured coal miner or require further information regarding whether or not you would be classified as a coal miner, please get in touch.