Mining company executives could face up to 20 years in jail if criminal negligence on their part causes the death of mine and quarry workers under new laws proposed by the Queensland state government.

Queensland has had a horror spate of mine deaths recently, after a Thiess contractor was killed at a coal mine owned by Coronado Global Resources (ASX:CRN) in January — the eight death in just 18 months.

Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham introduced legislation to create the offence of industrial manslaughter, which will allow senior officers of a mine or quarry company to be tried if criminal negligence is proven over a workers death.

Maximum penalties range up to $13m and 20 years jail.

Dr Lynham noted that while Queensland already had the toughest mine safety and health laws in the world, it was unacceptable that workers in the resources industry continued to die.

“These laws will give our 50,000 mine and quarry workers the same protections as other Queensland workers,” Dr Lynham said.

“These are part of the most comprehensive suite of mine health and safety reforms in two decades.”

The bill also aims to give the Queensland government more power to scrutinise the financial capabilities of a company when a mine changes hands.

Enhanced scrutiny of mines that are placed on care and maintenance, broader powers for remediating abandoned mines as well as clear criteria to assess the suitability of companies and people to hold resource tenures are also included in the bill.

Dr Lynham said the new laws were just part of a suite of sweeping mine safety and health reforms being introduced under the Palaszczuk government.

Other reforms being pursued by the Queensland government include better detection and prevention of black lung, which is caused by long-term exposure to coal dust, an improved safety net for affected workers and a commitment to tighter controls on mine dust levels.

The government also wants to increase maximum penalties for offences to $4m, give the regulator the power to issue fines without going to court and spend $35m to deliver reforms to improve the safety and health of mine workers.

Additionally, legislation is being debated to establish an independent resources health and safety authority.

According to figures from Safe Work Australia, the mining industry had the third highest fatality rate in Australia, with 3.7 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2018 while the unenviable top spot went to the agriculture, forestry & fishing industry with 11.2 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

Now read: Mining deaths are on the rise again – but it’s far from Australia’s most dangerous industry