Ballarat mine collapse: Man killed and another injured in Australian accident

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The operators of a Victorian gold mine that collapsed, killing one man and leaving another fighting for life, have denied claims they stripped back safety oversight workers.

A 37-year-old man died after a section of the Ballarat Gold Mine partly gave way about 4.50pm in Mount Clear, near Ballarat, yesterday.

Operations at the mine will halt while WorkSafe conducts a detailed investigation into the man’s death.

The Bruthen man’s body was recovered by emergency services this morning.

The other worker, a 21-year-old man from Ballarat, was airlifted to the Alfred Hospital after suffering life-threatening injuries to his lower body.

He remains in hospital in a critical condition.

At least 28 workers escaped injury after making it to a “safety pod”.

Australian Workers Union Victorian (AWU) branch secretary Ronnie Hayden said the two workers were performing a manual style of mining known as “air legging” when the rockfall occurred.

The AWU told media today that the mining style of air legging had not been used at the Ballarat mine for years due to being unsafe.

Air legging is described as a method where a cylinder operated by compressed air is used to drill into rock.

“It’s devastating because it should have been avoided. They shouldn’t have been doing that task in the mine,” Hayden said.

“This form of air legging shouldn’t be used to do this form of work. This is a quick, cheap, and easy way to chase gold.

“Members on this mine have raised concerns about this style of mining and it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.”

Dozens of police, paramedics and members of the Country Fire Authority’s Oscar 1 Mine Rescue Team rushed to the Woolshed Gully Drive mine site when the collapse was reported.

The AWU confirmed the 28 workers in the safety pod were not at risk of injury.

“At no stage were the miners that had to get into the rescue chamber at risk. That’s the procedure when something goes wrong,” Hayden said.

“Our miners at this site are highly skilled. They weren’t rescued.”

It’s understood the workers had started their shift at 7am and had just two hours before they were due to clock off.

The incident comes three months after Victory Minerals took over operation of the mine, which is located about 116km west of Melbourne.

In a statement, Victory Minerals said it was cooperating fully with the WorkSafe investigation as well as undertaking its own internal investigation.

“The safety of our people on site is our first priority,” the statement read.

The spokesperson addressed earlier claims from the CMU that they had made their senior safety officer redundant.

“No safety professionals working underground in the mine were made redundant in the recent restructure. In fact, we increased safety professional resources within the underground,” they said.

“The roles and responsibilities of the redundant corporate managerial role were transferred to the Health, Safety, Environment and Community Manager, who reports directly to the CEO.”

The AWU today took aim at the operators, claiming the company had made its senior safety officer redundant.

They confirmed they would be pushing for manslaughter charges to be filed.

“Personally I would say this is the fault (of) management,” Hayden said.

“This is absolutely devastating because we have lost another worker and no worker should die at work.

“We are going to be pushing hard to make sure the industrial manslaughter laws are used. Since (those laws) have come in, we have had 169 Victorians killed at work, this year we have had 12 killed at work and since the time these laws have come in – we have had one prosecution and no jail time.

“This is not acceptable and there’s no point creating laws to protect workers if we don’t use those laws.”

Commenting generally on the incident, Victory Minerals said its emergency response team had worked closely with Victoria Police, CFA OSCAR 1 and other authorities.

“At approximately 6am this morning, we brought our remaining team member, trapped by yesterday’s rock fall, to the surface,” a company statement said.

“It was with great sadness that we confirm one of our own has passed away,” the statement said.

“Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with his family and all our people right now. Our absolute priority is supporting the well-being of our team members and their families and loved ones, as we all come to terms with this tragic news.

“One of our other team members who was transported to hospital last night is getting the best care possible. Our thoughts are with him and family and loved ones at this time.”

WorkSafe Victoria Health and Safety Executive Director Narelle Beer said a detailed and thorough investigation would occur into the incident.

She confirmed the mine would stay closed while the investigation occurred.

“Mining is an inherently dangerous industry. It’s a tragic circumstance and we also have another young man fighting for life in hospital,” she told media today.

“My inspectors and investigators have been on site since last night and we are conducting a very thorough investigation it will be a complex detailed investigation and it will take some time.

“We are keen to understand how we can ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.”


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