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Runaway Train Driver Sues BHP For Unfair Dismissal

Runaway train driver sues BHP for unfair dismissal

The driver of a runaway train which had to be deliberately derailed in Western Australia’s remote Pilbara last year is suing BHP claiming he was unfairly dismissed following the mishap.

The driver was fired just before Christmas, after an investigation found that he had failed to engage the emergency brake, which allowed the train to take off without a driver.

The details

On November 5, the train had stopped automatically after a braking system control cable became disconnected.

The driver got out of the cabin to carry out an inspection when the train started moving again.

“Our initial findings show that the emergency brake for the entire train was not engaged as required by the relevant operating procedures,” BHP iron ore president Edgar Basto said.

“The electric braking system that initially stopped the train automatically released after an hour while the driver was still outside.

“Due to integration failure of the backup braking system, it was not able to deploy successfully.”

While the driver was out of the train, it took off, carrying 30,000 tonnes of iron ore.

Reaching speeds of 110 kilometres an hour, it travelled 90 kilometres before being automatically derailed from BHP’s Integrated Remote Operations Centre in Perth.

Two of the train’s four locomotives were damaged in the derailment, along with 244 of the 268 carriages.

Blaming the worker – not the system

Lawyers for the man confirmed his claim for unfair dismissal was lodged with the Fair Work Commission last week.

“We say the decision is unfair for a raft of reasons, not least of which is blaming the worker for the accident when there were significant issues with the systems over which he had no control,” Timothy Kucera said.

“It’s a classic case of blaming the worker, not the system.”

BHP has refused to comment on the legal action, saying it would not provide further information out of respect for the former employee’s privacy.

Serious misconduct

Christiaan van Oeveren from Industrial Relations Claims said the train driver’s actions could amount to serious misconduct, which would warrant dismissal.

“According to the Fair Work Act, serious misconduct can include conduct that causes serious and imminent risk to the health and safety of a person, or the profitability of the employer’s business,” he said.

“While we don’t know the circumstances surrounding the train driver’s dismissal, it could be argued that letting a train with 30,000 tonnes of iron ore take off without anyone at the wheel is conduct that could seriously risk the health and safety of a lot of people.”

Mr Van Oeveren said in cases of serious misconduct, it’s up to the employer to ensure that they can prove the allegations.

“If the grounds for dismissal are not serious enough to warrant a finding of serious misconduct, and a worker is dismissed without being provided proper processes and procedural fairness, the employer will find themselves with an order to pay compensation and might even have to give the worker their job back,” he said.

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