Coalmine worker gets payout for horrific burns

Ben Nelson, who was badly injured at the Thiess Collinsville mine, hopes a new court ruling will make the industry safer.
Ben Nelson, who was badly injured at the Thiess Collinsville mine, hopes a new court ruling will make the industry safer. John Weekes

A FORMER coalmine worker who received burns to a quarter of his body hopes a penalty handed down to a mining firm will make the industry safer.

Ben Nelson used to love working in coal mines, Brisbane Industrial Magistrates Court heard on Friday.

But after he was engulfed in flames in a 2012 Collinsville accident, it was "physically and mentally impossible" for him to go back.

After years of legal wrangling, Mr Nelson was awarded $50,000 on Friday.

Queensland mining services company Thiess pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to discharge health and safety obligations in an incident causing grievous bodily harm.

Mr Nelson was hospitalised and needed skin grafts and multiple operations after a problem with a drill and pressure build-up blew off an inlet pipe.

The Department of Natural Resources and Mines, which took Thiess to court, was awarded $150,000 in costs.

Mr Nelson told NewsRegional he had no idea what to expect when turning up to court but was happy afterwards.

"In the beginning I had some issues with the way that the investigation was being handled," he said.

"I didn't think it was done to the best of their ability but they've certainly made up for it by getting a good outcome."

Thiess was fined $95,000, from which Mr Nelson's gratuity must be paid.

Mr Nelson now lives in Lawrence near Grafton in New South Wales. He hoped Magistrate Jane Bentley's ruling would improve life for miners and contractors.

"Hopefully it's going to make the mining industry a safer place to work," he said.


Ben Nelson received burns to his body after an explosion at the Collinsville Coalmine in October 2012.
Ben Nelson received burns to his body after an explosion at the Collinsville Coalmine in October 2012. Jacob Miley

Mr Nelson believed Thiess, the managing contractor at Collinsville, was "sincere" when it voiced regret on Friday for what happened.

Thiess's guilty plea was neither early nor timely, prosecutor Dearne Firth said.

The risk to Mr Nelson, who received third-degree burns, and a colleague with him, would have been greatly reduced if the men had received adequate training, she said.

But Ms Firth acknowledged Thiess had no previous convictions and was mostly a good "corporate citizen".

It would have been nice for Thiess to have shown some "generosity" to Mr Nelson sooner, Ms Firth said.

She said Thiess could move on but Mr Nelson had to live with "the adverse impact of these injuries for the rest of his life".

Defence lawyer Paul Hardman said Thiess wanted to express "regret and contrition" and had taken steps to ensure an accident like the Collinsville one was not repeated.

"It did have a very comprehensive safety management system. It was one aspect of the system that failed."

A contractor at the time of the incident, Mr Nelson was responsible for his own workers compensation.

Some issues around the incident were the subject of separate litigation.

Five years on: Explosion hell still re-lived

BEN Nelson still feels the effects of the mine explosion that left a quarter of his body covered in burns.

After five years, his medical treatment is ongoing and next month he will again require surgery - a regular occurrence since the accident on October 23, 2012.

Early that day, Mr Nelson was working a night shift at the Thiess-owned Collinsville Coal Mine. He was called to work on a blasthole drill rig and while investigating an issue with a compressor it exploded, engulfing him in flames made worse by hot oil. Looking back, he said, he was fortunate to walk away just with the injuries he did.

"The amount of air pressure and fire and heat that was in that explosion, it hit me front-on and I was lucky I put my hands up over my face. My face still got badly burnt but I didn't have to have it skin grafted, so I saved my facial appearance."

Mr Nelson recalls being able to turn his back to the fire and likens his movement to being on a rotisserie.

"I just got roasted," he told The Daily Mercury.

He was rushed to Collinsville Hospital, before being flown to Brisbane where he spent 18 days in the Royal Brisbane Burns Unit.

"The worst thing is, you are always re-living it," he said. "People are always going, what happened to your hands... because they don't look the best."

The accident and the subsequent investigation, involving legal action against Thiess, has also taken a toll on Mr Nelson and his family.

About 25- 30% of his body had to be covered in skin grafts, which hindered life in north Queensland. He lasted 18 months at Airlie Beach after the accident before the skin grafts that covered his body made it difficult to sweat. He has since relocated to cooler northern New South Wales.

Mr Nelson no longer works in the industry and instead found employment in an office, as he can't be "in the elements" too much these days.

Topics:  benjamin nelson ben nelson bowen collinsville dearne firth health and safety lawrence mackay magistrate jane bentley mining services paul hardman thiess workers compensation

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