Barminco superior dismisses concerns over mine safety hours before death

A heated discussion was held between a mine foreman and supervisor over safety in a section of the Mount Lyell copper mine hours before a bogger operator was killed by a mudslide in 2014, a coronial inquest has heard.

Leigh Johnstone had finished a night supervisor shift the day of the incident, which claimed the life of Michael Welsh, and reported his concerns over the conditions within two traverse drives that the company viewed as high priorities for ore extraction.

Mr Johnstone said there was excess muddy water in one section and bulging in the cavern of another which led to a decision to upgrade the area to a medium risk of mud rush.

He said he told Barminco foreman Anthony Clark the required work on both traverse drives had not been completed over the shift due to safety fears which invoked an angry reaction.

“He said I was soft and the crew were walking all over me,” Mr Johnstone said.

“I said ‘I don’t care – I need to get people out at the end of the day’.”

He said he communicated his opinion to the next shift supervisor, David Woolley, who he said agreed to inspect the situation.

Barminco project manager Jason Retallick was the most senior company on-site.

He said Mr Woolley was informally guiding new supervisor Leigh Johnstone who had no previous experience in sub-level caving.

Mr Retallick said if there was slumping in an area, the affected drawpoint would need to be put on-hold for 24 hours. 

He said there was no formal training on drawpoint assessment – from which ore was extracted – but there was on risk assessment procedures.

Mr Woolley said upon inspection with Mr Welsh, neither had concerns about working in the traverse drive experiencing bulging.

Forty-five minutes later, Mr Welsh was dead.

Mr Woolley said workers had authority to stop work if they believed conditions were unsafe but couldn’t recall when that right had been used.