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Australia Mine site had multiple safety complaints and wall collapses months before worker was killed

01:42  09 december  2019
01:42  09 december  2019 Source:   msn.com

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a man holding a fish in the water: Darwin man Craig Butler was killed after a wall collapse at the Bootu Creek Mine in the Northern Territory. (Sourced: Facebook)© ABC Business Darwin man Craig Butler was killed after a wall collapse at the Bootu Creek Mine in the Northern Territory. (Sourced: Facebook) In the year before a 59-year-old man was buried alive at the Bootu Creek mine, there were three dangerous wall collapses - or "failures" - and over a dozen safety complaints.

Despite these serious incidents, Northern Territory Worksafe inspectors never attended the site.

A three-month Freedom of Information investigation by the ABC has found there were 17 complaints made to NT Worksafe in the year leading up to the death of mine worker, Craig Butler.

However, all work done by the workplace safety watchdog to investigate and address concerns during that time was conducted "off-site".

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An email, sent between NT Worksafe and the NT Government following Mr Butler's death, revealed that the mine's owner, Singapore-based OM Manganese, said there had been three other wall collapses earlier this year in the same Tourag pit where Mr Butler was killed.

There was a wall slip on January 5, 2019 and a second incident — which was labelled a "continuance" of the initial collapse — on January 10, 2019.

A third collapse occurred on May 22, 2019.

No workers were in the area at those times, but all were classified as dangerous or a "near-miss".

Other workers managed to escape

Mr Butler died after 48,000 tonnes of soil collapsed on top of him on August 24, 2019.

An email, obtained from NT Worksafe, said Mr Butler was with two other colleagues at the time, but they had both managed to escape when a hanging wall gave way.

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Mr Butler's body was recovered nearly a fortnight later, on September 6, as the site had initially been deemed too dangerous for the body to be retrieved.

Lack of inspections 'beggars belief'

Bootu Creek mine.© AAP Image/Gareth Lewis Bootu Creek mine. Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) NT organiser Kane Lowth said they had been contacted by former and current employees about safety issues at the site since Mr Butler's death.

"I'm not sure what NT Worksafe have done since the incident, but we visited the mine last Thursday and Friday and identified a number of safety noncompliance concerns," he said.

Mr Lowth said he was told by mine management during this visit that they had not physically seen a NT Worksafe inspector for over five years, prior to the death.

"That in itself beggars belief," he said.

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"This appalling current system that relies on self-reporting must stop.

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A spokesperson for NT Worksafe said inspectors had attended the site in 2013, 2014 and 2015 but that all work, including reviewing internal investigation reports and following up on responses to incidents, had been done "off-site" since.

OM Manganese was placed into voluntary administration in 2016, with no mining conducted that year, but work resumed on the site in February 2017.

Multiple complaints about the same incident, but no on-site inspections

An NT Worksafe spokesman would not confirm how many of the 17 complaints were followed with a full investigation.

"Not all incidents notified met the requirements set out in the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011…and some events resulted in multiple notifications being made for the same incident," he said.

The spokesman said he was unable to provide further details as the workplace death was still being investigated.

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NT Primary Industry and Resources Minister Paul Kirby fronted the media after the fatal incident with promises that "if there has been any breach of the law our Government will take the strongest possible stand that it can."

'A political issue for Government'

However, an internal email, sent by a senior executive from within Mr Kirby's department in the days following the death of Mr Butler, outlined that the department's powers were limited.

"The unfortunate thing is that the incident will be both a real and a political issue for Government," it read.

"We have regulatory authority for operational approvals on the site, however in relation to yesterday's incident on the face of it our responsibility appears limited to environmental matters."

When questioned over the email, a spokesman for the Department of Primary Industry and Resources referred the ABC's enquiries back to NT Worksafe.

"Matters relating to the safety of workers is under the jurisdiction of NT Work Safe of the Department of the Attorney General and Justice that administer the national Work Health Safety Act (WHS)," he said.

140 jobs on the line

But Mr Kirby said he was still maintaining a hands-on role in the investigation.

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"At the time of the incident, I personally took the strongest possible action available to me and issued a directive to my department to instruct the mine to cease in-pit operations, which they did, and continue to do," he said.

"I remain the lead minister on this particular incident, and work closely with my Cabinet colleagues to ensure we act at the right time, while allowing our independent regulators to do their jobs."

CFMEU's Mr Lowth said the union had been in direct contact with the mine to address immediate concerns, pending the outcome of the ongoing investigations.

"There are 140 jobs on the line if management doesn't put safety first. This remains a priority for us," he said.

A spokeswoman from OM Manganese said they were continuing to work with authorities involved in the investigation.

"The safety of employees is the top priority for OMM. Safety and risk mitigation practices and procedures are in place for all operations at Bootu Creek Mine," she said.

"OMM has secured approvals for in-pit dewatering activities to assist in pit stability and safety as well as supporting continued [out of pit] processing operations. No work is being undertaken at the Tourag pit."

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