16 April 2014
A recent article in the Canberra Times states ‘Mining companies need to maintain the highest safety standards for their employees or risk a potential shareholder backlash, according to one of the country’s largest investment research firms.
As the Austar Coal Mine in the Hunter Valley investigates the death of two miners due to a wall collapse at its coalmine near Paxton, the managing director and head of research at Citigroup Australia and New Zealand, Bruce Rolph, said company safety records and reputations were playing an increasingly large part in their commercial success.
Citigroup’s research wing conducts yearly analyses of the safety records of Australia’s top-performing listed companies – this year finding 427 employees had been killed in industrial accidents since 2005 – most commonly in the mining industry.
That figure rose to 523 when members of the public were included in the accident count.
The report, Safety Spot-light, ASX 100 Companies and More, has been updated each year since 2009, and captures data on 117 top companies. Other dangerous industries include construction, engineering, transport and logistics.
Mr Rolph said the real force for change in making companies more accountable for their safety practices were institutional investors, fund managers and superannuation funds, who were increasingly focusing on ethical, social and environmental practices of top companies.
“Some years ago they may have been giving lip service to these issues, as they couldn’t be seen not to support them, but these days it is seen as a material market-influencing factor in investment decisions,” he said.
Mum and dad investors were also making their views clear – avoiding companies with poor safety record just as they avoided gaming and tobacco companies.
“Accidents happen but people want increasing confidence that companies take as much effort as possible to reduce those accidents to only those things which cannot be avoided,” Mr Rolph said.
The most recent report singled out Leighton Holdings, Lend Lease, Rio Tinto, Orica, Coca-Cola Amatil, Newcrest Mining, BHP Billiton, Boral, Aquarius Platinum, Toll Holdings and Transfield Services for having more than 10 deaths since 2005.
Mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton had the most deaths, losing 48 and 45 employees respectively.
Construction and infrastructure company Leightons lost 41 employees, while construction and property company Lend Lease lost 40.
Lend Lease was the company involved in the Canberra death in 2006 of father of two Nik Spasovski, 48, who fell to his death through an uncovered hole on the 11th floor of the Australian Taxation Office as it was being constructed.
But the Citi analysis also shows deaths, accidents and lost hours to injury are slowly decreasing.
It found that in the past year, 50 companies out of 78 reported a decline in lost time to injury rates, while 31 companies reported a decline in the injury frequency rate.
Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union ACT Secretary Dean Hall said it was heartening that shareholders and investors were taking note of company safety records, but devastating to learn of the loss of the two Hunter miners.
“This report understands that when there is a fatality, not only is it a terrible tragedy for the families involved, but that accidents can slow production and affect profits, so it is in the company’s best interests to stop the death toll,” he said.
Mr Hall said Lend Lease’s safety record was highly questionable. “Forty people dead. Well, if we were involved in a peacekeeping mission overseas and we lost 40 soldiers, the Australian government would be removing our armed forces from the war zone, no question.
“Workers are not given that same consideration.”