Risky Practices Caused Australian Coal Mine Explosion
BRISBANE, Australia — Six workers were seriously injured in a Queensland coal mine explosion because repeated over-production and poor planning led to dangerous gas build-up, an inquiry has found.
The six miners were hospitalized after the explosion at Anglo-American’s Grosvenor Coal Mine at Moranbah on May 6, 2020.
The Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry‘s second report released on June 14 states the disaster was caused by “spontaneous combustion.”
It said the systemic cause of the disaster was repeated methane gas build-ups, or high potential incidents (HPIs), at long wall mine 104 (LW 104).
The board said coal production regularly outstripped the mine’s gas drainage capacity of 70,000 tonnes a week despite management being aware of the risks.
“Despite the emergence of high gas emissions, no adjustment to production was made beyond gas drainage system capacity,” the report states.
“No limit was imposed on weekly or daily production.”
The inquiry said Anglo Americans failed to install an adequate gas drainage system before the mine started production on March 9, 2020.
The first methane gas high potential incident occurred at the Grosvenor Mine less than 10 days later, on March 18.
There were another six high potential incidents over the following six days, each occurring when coal production exceeded the mine’s gas drainage capacity.
“Producing coal at a rate that consistently exceeds the capacity of the critical control of gas drainage subjects coal mine workers to an unacceptable level of risk,” the report states.
“It follows that coal mine workers on LW 104 were repeatedly subject to an unacceptable level of risk.”
The inquiry found that Resources Safety & Health Queensland (RSHQ) had also failed to identify the risk at the mine.
The board said labor hire and contract work at the mine had contributed to the risky work environment.
It said there was a perception among those workers that raising safety concerns may jeopardize their jobs.
“It has not been possible to assess how widespread that perception might be,” the report states.
“However, the existence of a perception, no matter how widespread, creates a risk that safety concerns will not always be raised.”
The board has made 40 recommendations to avoid a similar disaster, including that coal mine operators review gas drainage.
It called on the Grosvenor mine’s management to audit gas drainage to ensure the risk to workers was at an acceptable level.
More broadly, the report states that all Queensland coal mines should regularly assess production to ensure they do not exceed gas drainage.
It also called for laws to be amended to compel mine managers to develop a set of critical controls for gas drainage with performance criteria.
Mine managers would have to notify the Resources Safety & Health Queensland of failures, report on controls monthly, and conduct regular audits.
The board said Resources Safety & Health Queensland should review its risk profiling and response practices to ensure it acts as a “proactive regulator.”
It also called for laws to be amended to compel labor hire agencies to report severe incidents, including gas or death at a coal mine, involving their employees.
The report states that health and safety obligations could also be imposed on labor hire agencies.
(Edited by Amrita Das and Ojaswin Kathuria)