ENGIE denies breach

ENGIE has defended its decision to remove fire protection staff from the Hazelwood mine in June. file photograph

ENGIE has defended its decision to remove fire protection staff from the Hazelwood mine in June. file photograph

ENGIE is disputing claims laid against it by the CFMEU and Earth Resources Regulation it did not consult with the appropriate authorities before removing fire protection staff from the Hazelwood mine in June.

The CFMEU and Gippsland Trades and Labour Council have slammed ENGIE after the regulator this week alleged the company breached the its own work plan by removing the staff before ordering it to reinstate a "competent workforce" within 21 days.

CFMEU organiser Duncan MacGregor yesterday said ENGIE's actions were "laughable", while GTLC secretary Steve Dodd said the company was showing a "sign of contempt".

The regulator alleged on Tuesday ENGIE failed to consult with the CFA or the regulator before pulling fire protection staff – responsible for managing the risk of a potential fire – from its mine in June.

ENGIE said it was "surprised" to receive notice it had allegedly breached its own work plan and yesterday dismissed suggestions it had acted inappropriately.

In a statement, Hazelwood Rehabilitation Project director Tony Innocenzi said the company had been in discussions with the relevant authorities, including the CFA and the regulator, since early this year.

However, both the Earth Resources Regulation and the CFMEU have disputed those claims.

"ENGIE should not be surprised by the action being taken by ERR to enforce fire safety controls at the Hazelwood coal mine, as specifically detailed in their work plan," Earth Resources Regulation executive director Anthony Hurst said.

The regulator said the current work plan for Hazelwood was approved in December 2017 and ENGIE could face initial penalties of up to $400,000, and a further $48,000 per day, if it did not comply with the regulator's notice.

Mr MacGregor was highly critical of ENGIE and said the alleged breach could pose a significant risk to the community.

"The reported non-compliance borders on a level of negligent behaviour that would almost certainly place the remaining workers and the Morwell community at risk should we have a repeat of the 2014 fire," Mr MacGregor told The Express.

"If you're to believe the regulators' media release it would be reasonable to ask whether ENGIE were operating with a level of incompetence or arrogance."

The Express understands about a dozen workers have remained on the site since June - working between 6.45am and 5pm, leaving the hours outside of that shift with minimal fire protection.

Mr MacGregor said ENGIE's response to questions asked by The Express this week were "laughable", questioning whether the company had the ability to respond to a potential fire in the mine after hours and on weekends.

Information obtained by The Express says current staffing numbers at the site at night included a security guard, two emergency service officers and an emergency commander.

"Their numbers has been increased by one, the emergency commander role, and given that the remaining three people on-site have existing commitments in an emergency situation I would seriously doubt they have sufficient numbers to man a fire truck let alone deal with a flare-up."

Mr Dodd labelled the company's removal of fire protection staff as a "sign of contempt" which was "putting the community at serious risk".

However, ENGIE said it was "appointed that ERR has issued this notice without any discussion or prior warning" and stated the company had been in discussions with the relevant authorities since the start of the year.

"These discussions were held well in advance of the changes to the bucket wheel operation," Mr Innocenzi said.

"Questions were asked and answered, and at no point did anyone express objections. Our emergency services personnel are professionally trained in fire fighting.

"They are first responders and ... many of them are also CFA volunteers. They are extremely competent."

The Earth Resources Regulation said it expected ENGIE to fulfil its obligation and reinstate a "competent workforce" by the end of the month.

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