AWU responds to Ballarat mine death

The Victorian Australian Workers Union (AWU) today (15 March 2024) says there should not be a retreat from prosecuting the mine operator responsible for the Ballarat Gold miner’s death on 13 March. 

In 2020, the Victoria’s workplace manslaughter laws came into effect, which carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ jail for individuals and fines in excess of $19 million for companies. 

As previously reported, workplace safety and the federal government’s industrial relations bill has been a hot topic, as Safe Work Australia data showed in November last year that one workplace death occurs every few days. 

In 2023, some 173 workers were killed at work in Australia, according to Safe Work, with 7 of those deaths mining-related. 

Meanwhile as of 29 February 2024, Safe Work Australia reports 14 Australian workers have been killed at work thus far, with one in the mining industry. 

On the AWU social media pages, the company wrote: “While families of miners at the Ballarat Gold Mine must be given space to grieve, there can be no retreat from prosecuting the mine operator using new industrial manslaughter laws.

“It needs to be crystal clear – if one of your workers dies because of your decision, you will do jail time

It needs to be crystal clear – if one of your workers dies because of your decision, you will do jail time.”

As this news service previously reported, due to an alleged rockfall at Victory Minerals’ Ballarat Gold Mine, a 37-year-old man died and a 21-year-old has been left critically injured, out of the 30 miners. 

Speaking on the Sunrise program today, AWU Victorian branch secretary Ronnie Hayden says: “It’s devastating because no worker should be injured or die at work, but it’s even more devastating because this should have been avoided.

They should have not been doing that task in that mine. Say in tunneling for example, they’d use to put anchors into the rocks to hold the rocks back. They were actually using it to create a tunnel to work into to chase the gold. 

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

The workers union has recognised that the use of air legging should not have been carried out, due to unsafety. Air legging is a large, manually operated drill that uses compressed air to pulverise the rock face it is drilling into. 

According to Australian Resources Contracting, air leg mining can be carried out safely through following procedures learnt from over years of experience of handheld raising, all forms of air leg stoping and intermediate driving and sub-levelling. 

The technique allows to mine narrow vein ore bodies and can turn an uneconomical resource into a profitable ore body to mine. 

According to Federation University geology lecturer Haydn Swan, the alternative to using an air leg is using a jumbo rig, which is considered a ‘bigger’ piece of equipment and needs a 3m by 3m spacing, in comparison to an air leg which can mine at 1m width. 

Swan says to another news service that using an air leg is considered more dangerous than other techniques due to it putting a miner closer to the rock face being drilled. 

However, a Western Australian mining contractor John Jonston reports that air legging is not dangerous. 

“In the 1970s and 1980s there were basically no regulations and air leg mining was a common method of mining when ground support was barely used, so there were a lot of fatalities and that stigma still exists.

Mine management procedures have more to do with the safety of what you’re doing than the technique you’re using.”

On the AWU website, Victoria Branch Regional Organiser Ross Kenna says: “Based on current information, we have a high level of confidence that the members’ jobs will remain secure. 

Nevertheless, we recognise the importance of being prepared for any unforeseen changes in the circumstances that may impact the workforce. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and take proactive measures to address any potential risks to job security. 

Our top priority remains the well-being of our members and we are committed to keeping them informed of any updates or changes that may affect their employment.”

WorkSafe is continuing to investigate the incident. 

Victory Minerals took over ownership of the Ballarat Gold Mine in December 2023. 

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Images: Victorian Australian Workers Union 
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Written By Aaliyah Rogan
Relocated from the East Coast in New Zealand to Queensland Australia, Aaliyah is a fervent journalist who has a passion for storytelling. When Aaliyah isn’t writing stories, she is either spending time with friends and family or down at the beach.