AMSJ » Employer ‘transferred’ safety duties before rock fall killed underground employee

Employer ‘transferred’ safety duties before rock fall killed underground employee

Kurt Hourigan
Kurt Hourigan

A mineral producer reallocated occupational health and wellbeing responsibilities prior to a deadly subterranean collapse.

Victory Minerals recently confirmed it shifted safety compliance ahead of Kurt Hourigan’s tragic fatality at Mount Clear mine.

The underground worker and a colleague had tried to perform air legging when “unsupported ground” unexpectedly collapsed at about 4:50pm on 13 March 2024. Emergency responders declared the 37-year-old deceased at the scene and his 21-year-old coworker was transported to the Alfred Hospital for critical leg injuries.

“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,” a company spokesperson said.

“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 remarks came in response to multiple complaints that Victory Minerals allegedly neglected its legal obligation to ensure every worker returns safely at the end of each shift.

“When this company took over [in December 2023] they made their senior safety manager redundant and have not replaced them,” Australian Workers Union state secretary Ronnie Hayden said according to the Australian Associated Press.

Hayden hopes management will be charged if official investigations find the victim was not at fault.

“We public[ly] need to see our new industrial manslaughter laws used here, it needs to be crystal clear: If one of your workers dies because of your decision you will do jail time, simple as that” he said in a public statement.

“This form of air legging should not be used to do this type of work. The information that we are getting back was this was a quick, cheap and easy way to chase gold.”

WorkSafe Victoria revealed it is considering all options including legal action.

“We are conducting a very thorough investigation. We are very keen to understand how we can ensure that a tragedy like this never occurs again. If as a result of that there is a prosecution that will follow – that matter will be prosecuted accordingly,” executive director Narelle Beer said according to News Limited.

“We will certainly try to understand if there is anything that could have been it or avoided or recklessness or negligence,” earth resources manager Benjamin Wright added.

The proponent promised to fully cooperate with investigators and perform its own internal examination.

The Minerals Council of Australia extended sympathies to affected colleagues and loved ones.

“This tragic event is a reminder of the need to always prioritise safety above all else. The minerals industry will continue to work hard to eliminate fatalities, injuries and occupational illnesses,” CEO Tania Constable said in a public statement.

Tributes have already started flowing for Hourigan who will be remembered as a “cheeky”, “playful” and “kind” person.

“Kurt Hourigan rocks up to camp with nothing but a frying pan and 1kg of bacon, a swag with no poles in a two wheel-drive Honda running on hopes and dreams … to eating food more solid then the rocks we breaking. Cutting the tip of your thumb off 150 feet (45.7 metres) underground then going to the pub with a thumbs up stump … I will miss you mate,” former workmate Nathan Ward said on Facebook.

“You going down into the shaft, me cooking the scones for you all and putting up with all you cheeky guys. If memory serves me right we even sent some down in the bucket for you to enjoy so Daryl, David Coyle and the others did not eat them all before you came back up. Looking back they were great times in trying times … rest easy and go find those mines in heaven,” former colleague Johann Westin commented.

“Kurt’s playful spirit and unwavering dedication touched us all deeply. Our hearts are heavy but his legacy of kindness and professionalism will forever inspire us. Rest in peace, dear friend. You will be deeply missed,” geologist guy Julian Geldard added.

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