Hazelwood mine fire a lesson to collaborate and communicate

The inquiry into the Hazelwood mine fire reported to Victorian Parliament yesterday. There’s lessons about engaging with the public and the danger of working in silos.

The final report of the inquiry into the Hazelwood mine fire is filled with lessons for public servants — chiefly the need to provide the public with consistent, timely, concise and accurate messages during an emergency, and ensuring knowledge is transferred between agencies as responsibilities are handed over.

The report refers to two government bodies — the Earth Resources Regulation Branch of the Department of State Development, Business and Innovation, which regulates mining, and the Earth Resources Unit of the Victorian WorkCover Authority — which were “operating in silos”.

Both bodies “adopted a narrow reading of the statutory regime underlying their respective areas of responsibility”, the inquiry found. This resulted in a loss of knowledge following the transfer of responsibilities for fire risk at the Hazelwood mine from the mining regulator to the WorkCover authority at the beginning of 2008:

“The combination of these factors resulted in a gap in regulation of the Hazelwood mine in respect of fire risks with the potential to impact on Morwell and surrounding communities, such as that which manifested in 2014. The Hazelwood mine fire was a foreseeable risk that slipped through the cracks between regulatory agencies. This reality must be confronted if similar incidents are to be avoided in the future.”

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