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Workers vacate Central Qld coal mine during electrical storm

Grosvenor Coal Mine
Grosvenor Coal Mine

An underground operation was evacuated due to a violent electrical disturbance in the atmosphere on March 10.

A dangerous storm forced Anglo American to temporarily remove everyone from its Grosvenor Coal Mine in Moranbah, 198km southwest of Mackay.

The proponent confirmed the evacuation went smoothly without incident, following a lightning strike on a gas sled arrestor at the work site. There were also issues with surface gas drainage infrastructure linked to older parts of the mine that were permanently sealed.

“In line with our procedures there was an orderly and safe withdrawal of our workforce to the surface … [and] conditions are currently stable underground,” an Anglo spokesperson said according to News Limited.

Resources Safety and Healthy Queensland (RSHQ) has already started investigating circumstances surrounding the incident. An “external expert review” will be completed in consultation with RSHQ and the industry safety and health representative. A risk assessment also needs to be completed before underground work can resume.

“Our crews have been briefed that mining will resume when it is safe to do so, and we can confirm that there is no impact to the current workings of the mine,” the proponent said according to the media outlet.

The remarks came just weeks after longwall mining operations recommenced on 21 February 2022. Work previously stopped for more than 19 months after an explosion hospitalised five employees with severe burns, kidney failure and lung blood-clots back on 6 May 2020.

The Office of the Work Health and Safety Prosecutor made no charges in relation to the blast because there was reportedly little to no chance of bringing the employer to justice.

Anglo is already reevaluating its labour hire employment model at the mine to improve safety practices. This will be conducted in tandem with a separate bonus structures review across Australian mine sites.

RSHQ previously recommended mines should review their lightning or severe weather triggered action response plan, which manages risk to workers during lightning storms. It also suggests assessing the most appropriate methods of protecting staff and preventing lighting strikes to equipment.

“[Equipment] cannot be considered as a place of safety during a lightning storm. Care must be taken … during a lightning storm so as not to create a hazard for coal mine workers, buildings or structures,” the authority said in an earlier safety notice.

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AMSJ April 2022