Dec 18, 2020

Board of Inquiry delivers early findings

Board of Inquiry delivers early findings

A key coal mining safety report has highlighted the need to transform the Queensland Mines Inspectorate into ‘an employer of choice’ and for companies to better recognise the seriousness of methane exceedances.

The Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry was established to look into an underground explosion which injured five men at Anglo American’s Grosvenor mine on May 6, as well as various high potential incidents involving exceedances of methane limits in other longwall mines.

It published Part 1 of its report online this week (available HERE), after providing the material to State Resources Minister Scott Stewart on November 30.

In that report, the Board draws particular attention to the inspectorate’s difficulty in recruiting and retaining well-qualified inspectors.

“Compared with salaries being paid in the industry, inspectorate salaries are markedly inadequate,” it states.

“A properly resourced regulator, comprised of well-qualified personnel, is fundamental to safety in the coal mining industry.”

The board acknowledged that many of the recommendations in this part of its report were directed at the regulator and that their implementation would significantly increase its workload.

It said it was necessary for the regulator to be supplied with appropriate resources both to perform its work and to engage in a program of continuous improvement.

The board found that reportable methane exceedances had genuine potential to cause permanent disabling injury or loss of life.

It said incident classifications at site and corporate level should recognise that potential.

Evidence to the inquiry showed that neither Anglo American’s nor Glencore’s incident classification system aligned with the definition of a high potential incident (HPI) in the Coal Mining Safety
and Health Act 1999.

“Anglo’s use of a classification system that included so-called ‘DNRM HPIs’
created a sub-class of HPI that may have a tendency to diminish the perception of the seriousness of the events,” the report states.

The board found that while in practice repeat HPIs (including methane exceedances) may be the subject of special attention by the parent companies, the documented standards and procedures provided to the Inquiry did not expressly require escalation in terms of investigation and notification.

It also found that the potential consequence of methane exceedances at Oaky North, Moranbah North and Grasstree mines was not properly
identified at any of the mines, in that there was a failure to recognise that each had the potential to result in an outcome with a level 4 or 5 consequence rating.

Among the Board recommendations is that mine operators and parent companies regard, and action, a reportable methane exceedance as having a potential consequence of level 4 or 5 under corporate incident
classification criteria.

It also recommends that they should escalate the treatment of repeat high potential incidents of a similar nature and ensure a more rigorous investigation than for a single high potential incident.

Further public hearings are planned next year, with the continuous inertisation of active goafs among the issues to be covered.

Hearings into all matters concerning the Grosvenor mine, including the serious accident and the methane exceedances identified in the Terms of Reference, are expected to commence on March 9, 2021.   

Part 2 of the report is due to be provided to the Minister for Resources by May 31.