Anglo American exposed coal miners to excessive risk, inquiry finds

15 June 2021 - 11:46 By Reuters
The Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry report found that methane gases exceeded regulated levels 27 times in the lead up to the May 6 explosion from July 2019, and came against a backdrop of gas management issues.
The Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry report found that methane gases exceeded regulated levels 27 times in the lead up to the May 6 explosion from July 2019, and came against a backdrop of gas management issues.
Image: 123RF/ adam88x/ File photo

An Australian inquiry into a blast at an Anglo American coal mine in Queensland state that seriously injured five workers found that the miner repeatedly produced more methane gas than it could remove and had exposed workers to excessive risk.

Mining activities at Anglo's Grosvenor mine in Queensland's Bowen Basin were halted after the May 2020 explosion that triggered a government inquiry. Activities resumed earlier this month ahead of a staged restart.

The Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry report found that methane gases exceeded regulated levels 27 times in the lead up to the May 6 explosion from July 2019, and came against a backdrop of gas management issues.

Anglo American said in a statement it was acting on the recommendations in the report, which was released on Monday, and had made A$60 million ($46.24 million) of investment in safety initiatives over the last year.

It said it was updating its operations management and fast tracking work to automate operations and use remote working where possible to remove people from high risk areas.

The report said that overly high methane levels resulted as the mine’s rate of production was higher than the capacity of the mine’s gas drainage system.

It found that Grosvenor failed to take “timely and meaningful” action to control the hazard posed by methane and that coal mineworkers in that section were repeatedly subject to unacceptable risk.

It also found that the state regulator, Resources Safety & Health Queensland should have been more proactive.

The regulator said it co-operated with the investigation and was committed to improving its risk management regulation in line with the inquiry's findings in the coal and other resources industries.

Union president of CFMEU's state mining and energy division Stephen Smyth said the most shocking part of the report was the detailed account of Anglo’s failure to manage dangerous gases at the mine in the months leading up to the blast.

“Management knew there were problems following a series of high potential incidents during March and April, but did not slow coal production to match its gas drainage capacity,” he said in a statement.

“Coal mineworkers put their lives in the hands of mine managers every time they go to work and they should be able to have confidence every possible measure is in place to protect them. They have been seriously let down in this case.”

Grosvenor produced 4.7 million tonnes of metallurgical or steelmaking coal in 2019. 

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