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Mine safety board of inquiry into recent incidents in Queensland coal mining

Queensland mine safety inquiry

A mine safety board of inquiry will investigate methane gas incidents in Queensland’s underground coal mines since mid-2019, but some are concerned that the scope of the inquiry will fail to deliver real outcomes for Queensland mine safety.

The launch of the inquiry follows the underground gas explosion at Grosvenor Mine near Moranbah which resulted in the hospitalisation of five miners with severe burns.

The inquiry will explore 27 high potential incidents that occurred at Grosvenor mine between 1 July 2019 and 5 May 2020 as well as a number of high potential incidents at Grasstree, Moranbah North and Oaky Creek North underground coal mines.

The scope of the inquiry specifically excludes consideration of failings of the Queensland Government and its mine safety regulator following notification of more than 40 high potential gas-related underground incidents in Queensland mines.

Rather, it will focus on activities of the mining operators in the prevention of the gas-related incidents. At the outset, the inquiry is clearly targeted at mine operators who say that they not only complied with but exceeded the regulatory requirements associated with methane management.

One targeted measure for the inquiry involves assessing and determining whether the operational practices and management systems in existence at each of the mines or at corporate levels above them at the time the incidents occurred were adequate and effective to achieve compliance with the relevant safety laws and standards.

One former inspector told AMSJ, “it’s likely to be a witch hunt aimed directly at mining companies involved. They (the Qld Government) want scalps, but want the inquiry to stay far away from their own scalp,” he said.

Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham told Parliament today that the inquiry would be led by retired District Court Judge Terry Martin SC, as chair, and Professor Andrew Hopkins AO from the Australian National University.

Professor Hopkins is well known for his works on the Appin Mine Disaster, Moura No 2 as well as the Royal Commission into the 1998 Exxon gas plant explosion near Melbourne. He was a consultant to the US Chemical Safety Board in its investigation of the BP Texas City Refinery disaster of 2005, and also for its investigation into the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010.

Professor Andrew Hopkins
Professor Andrew Hopkins

Dr Lynham said, “The board will be able to conduct public hearings, call witnesses and make broad inquiries, findings and recommendations relating to the incident.”

“The board’s terms of reference ask them to inquire into the incident at Grosvenor Mine as well as 40 other high potential incidents relating to the principal hazard of methane.

“They have been asked to determine the nature and cause of each of the Grosvenor accident and make findings in relation to the incidents.”

“Further the Board of Inquiry is to make recommendations for improving safety and health practices and procedures to mitigate against the risk of these incidents happening again.”

Dr Lynham said Deputy Chief of Coal Mines and a team from the Queensland Mines Inspectorate is continuing with a full investigation on site at Grosvenor mine.

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You can view the terms of reference for the Queensland mine safety board of inquiry here

Anglo says it ‘proactively manages methane’

A spokesperson from Anglo American said this afternoon “Anglo American is the largest underground coal miner in Queensland, operating in a methane-rich area of the Bowen Basin”

“We proactively manage this methane through a number of measures, including the draining of gas before and during mining and the installation of extensive ventilation infrastructure.”

“We exceed the regulatory requirements at our mines by having a higher number of methane sensors and have additional controls than what is specified in the regulations.”

Many of the High Potential Incidents (HPIs) reported to the Mines Inspectorate were from methane exceedances picked up by these additional sensors.” the company spokesperson said.

Anglo said it continues to proactively learn from all incidents, and that it will cooperate fully in the inquiry as an opportunity to continue to improve the management of methane and safety in underground mining.

CEO of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson said: “Our priority remains the care of our five injured colleagues and families.

“Our own technical investigation into the Grosvenor methane ignition incident is underway with industry experts, including in the areas of methane and ventilation management and forensic fire analysis.

“The safety of our people is what is most important.  We want answers as to why an ignition of methane occurred at Grosvenor mine and we understand that everyone else does too.”

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