Mine put workers at ‘unacceptable’ risk in lead-up to Grosvenor explosion, inquiry finds

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An inquiry into an explosion at a coal mine in Central Queensland has found the mine’s gas drainage systems couldn’t cope with the rate of production.

Five miners were seriously injured in the blast at the Grosvenor Mine in May last year.

The Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry was set up to examine the cause of the blast and other methane exceedances at the underground mine between July 2019 and the day before the blast.

A series of public hearings spanning several weeks were held throughout 2020 and early 2021. 

One of the injured workers, Wayne Sellars, spoke at the hearings, describing the horrifying event as like “standing in a blow torch”.

a man in a white shirt and grey hat sits in a chaira man in a white shirt and grey hat sits in a chair
Wayne Sellars, who was injured in the blast at the Grosvenor Mine, testified at the inquiry.(

Supplied: Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry

)

Workers subject to ‘unacceptable’ risk

In a report released today, the Board found mine operator Anglo American failed to take meaningful action to control the hazard posed by the gas.

It also found spontaneous combustion had not been factored into risk assessments, and that no adjustment to production had been made to allow for the lack of capacity in gas drainage. 

“There is a strong correlation between the mine’s production rates and the occurrence of the HPIs [High Potential Incidents],” the report found. 

The blast happened in a section of the mine called Long Wall 104 (LW 1014). 

“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.

A sign for Anglo American's Grosvenor underground coal mine at Moranbah in central Queensland.A sign for Anglo American's Grosvenor underground coal mine at Moranbah in central Queensland.
Anglo American’s Grosvenor underground coal mine at Moranbah in central Queensland.(

ABC News: Jemima Burt

)

Union slams mining company

Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) Queensland mining and energy division president Steve Smyth said the report was a damning indictment on Anglo American.

“For a period of time the workers were being exposed to an unacceptable level of risk … and that comes down to lack of pre-drainage,” he said.

“Anglo knew what was going on in that mine and weren’t dealing with the hazards. The level of risk was unacceptable.

A marker on a map shows Grosvenor coal mine outside of Moranbah in Queensland.A marker on a map shows Grosvenor coal mine outside of Moranbah in Queensland.
The Grosvenor Mine is located just north of Moranbah in Central Queensland. 

Mr Smyth said the union was still going through the 40 recommendations but said there needed to be some “real soul searching” done by the senior leadership at Anglo American.

“They all recognised that they had to reduce their production rates to manage their gas,” he said.

“But they didn’t.

“Unfortunately, the end result was five men got serious burns, and [they were] at risk of the whole mine exploding.”

He said the industry needed to learn from this incident.

Business announces research fund

CEO of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson, said the company was already acting on the recommendations of the Board of Inquiry.

The company said it had invested $60 million in safety initiatives over the past year. 

“We are today committing a further $5 million to fund underground mining research, in partnership with our industry research and technology partners, to improve the industry’s knowledge in certain technical areas,” Mr Mitchelson said in a statement.

“We have been clear from the outset that the incident on 6 May, 2020 in which five of our colleagues were badly injured was unacceptable.”

“The safety of our workforce is always our first priority.”

A road leading the an entrance of the mine site, which has lots of street lights and signs.A road leading the an entrance of the mine site, which has lots of street lights and signs.
Five people were seriously injured in an explosion at Grosvenor coal mine at Moranbah in May 2020.(

ABC News: Jemima Burt

)

Politician calls for action

Burdekin LNP MP Dale Last’s electorate takes in the area where the Grosvenor mine is located.

He said to have repeated high methane incidents not being treated “as a symptom of a major problem” was simply unacceptable.

“It is very clear from the report that the government, regulators, and the mining companies have work to do when it comes to mine safety and that work needs to start today,” he said.

“There are several recommendations that refer to flawed modelling and the need for technology.

“Addressing those flaws and implementing that technology should be a priority for [the Safety in Mines Testing and Research Station — SIMTARS] and the Labor government needs to ensure that the resources SIMTARS needs to achieve are available immediately.

Queensland Resources Minister Scott Stewart said in a statement he expected the government would work with the Queensland Resources Council and mining companies on an industry action plan to address recommendations made in the report.

“What happened at the Grosvenor underground coal mine was unacceptable,” he said.

“I will consult with workers’ representatives and the industry to protect workers’ safety.

Mr Stewart said findings that showed production targets were put ahead of workers safety was a concern.

“This is a serious issue our government intends to investigate further,” he said.

“The most important thing to come out of any mine is its workers.

“Our government will always put the safety of workers first.”

Regulator welcomes recommendations

A spokesperson for Resources Safety and Health Queensland (RSHQ), the regulator that investigates high potential incidents at mines, said it had cooperated with the inquiry. 

“RSHQ welcomes the board’s support for its ongoing implementation of recommendations from the 2019 review of fatalities in the mining and quarrying industry and remains committed to implementing other improvements to our risk-based approach to regulation, identified in the inquiry’s part 1 report,” the spokesperson said. 

“RSHQ will continue to help coal mine operators meet their obligations to protect coal mine workers and give effect to the board’s recommendations about improving risk management. We are also committed to ensuring any relevant learnings are applied to other resources operations.”