‘Devastated’ union lashes safety after mine worker’s death

Union boss on deadly Victorian mine accident

Source: AAP

A union leader has lashed out about safety after a miner died and another is fighting for life in hospital after an underground collapse.

The two miners were pinned by fallen rocks at the Ballarat Gold Mine at Mount Clear, north-west of Melbourne, on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s devastating because we’ve lost another worker,” Australian Workers’ Union Victorian branch secretary Ronnie Hayden said.

A group of 28 workers managed to take refuge in a safety pod when the collapse happened.

A 21-year-old Ballarat man was stabilised before he was taken out of the mine about 8.30pm on Wednesday with lower body injuries. He was later flown to Melbourne’s The Alfred hospital in a life-threatening condition.

Attempts to get to the other man, a 37-year-old from Bruthen, east of Bairnsdale, continued overnight. His body was found early on Thursday.

Mine owner Victoria Minerals issued a statement on Thursday afternoon.

“This tragic incident is now being independently investigated by WorkSafe Victoria,” it read.

“Given this, it’s not appropriate for us to comment further right now, other than to confirm we are cooperating fully with this investigation, and undertaking our own.

“The safety of our people on site is our first priority. 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. 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.”

Hayden said the two workers had been carrying out a manual type of mining called air-legging – a new activity on an old site.

“They were working on unsupported ground, trapping both miners and killing one,” he said.

He said the style of mining was not appropriate for the setting.

“This form of air-legging should not be used to do this type of work,” he said.

ballarat gold mine

The mine has extensive workings under the central Victorian city. Image: Ballarat Gold Mine

“The information we’re getting back was this was a quick, cheap and easy way to chase gold.”

Hayden said some workers had early flagged concerns about the mine.

“Our members have raised concerns about this style of mining and it seems to have fallen on deaf ears,” he said.

“We are going to be pushing very hard to ensure that the industrial manslaughter laws are used … Personally, I believe this is the fault of management – but that will be left to investigators.”

The union was called to the mine after the men were trapped underground about 5pm on Wednesday. Police were called at the same time.

“The incident occurred approximately three kilometres underground from the mine entry. Paramedics worked with mine rescue staff to stabilise one person prior to extrication,” Victoria Police said.

“The 28 miners that took refuge were safely brought to the surface and assessed by Ambulance Victoria. The body of the second man trapped … was recovered about 5:15am this morning.”

WorkSafe will investigate the incident and police will prepare a report for the coroner. Operations at the mine have been suspended.

Victory Minerals took operational control of the Ballarat Gold Mine in December 2023. The mine’s website states it has an extensive network of tunnels and operates deep beneath buildings, streets and homes.

Ballarat Mayor Des Hudson said the miner’s death was devastating.

“We are a very resilient community,” he said.

“There will be great community concern and support by the local community to those that are involved.”

In 2007, 27 miners were trapped underground at the mine for several hours before being winched to safety.

-with AAP

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