The Board of Inquiry (BOI) investigation into a methane explosion at the Grosvenor underground coal mine has concluded with the release of Part II of its Report which contains 40 recommendations for improving safety and health practices to mitigate against the risks that led to five coal mine workers being seriously injured on 6 May 2020.
During the inquiry the BOI closely considered methane exceedance high potential incidents (HPI) at four Queensland coal mines, the methane explosion incident, and the impact of labour hire arrangements and relevant-obligation holders in mitigating against the risk of coal mine methane explosions.
Part I of the BOI's Report released on 30 November 2020 considered the HPIs that occurred at the Grasstree and Moranbah North mines, and the Glencore plc Oaky North mine.
Part II of the Report deals with the Board’s inquiry into the HPIs that occurred at American plc (Anglo) Grosvenor and the methane explosion incident, and sets out the key findings and recommendations from the inquiry.
Critically, the BOI identified a number of systemic issues that led to the explosion incident including that:
- rates of production exceeded the capacity of the system used to manage gas levels; and
- there was a failure to take timely and meaningful action to control the hazard posed by methane.
The BOI also identified practical deficiencies with gas monitoring systems in underground coal mines and the reliance on gas monitoring to detect developing spontaneous combustion. It also noted the risks caused by the perception among coal mine workers that labour hire or contract workers may jeopardise their employment if they raise safety concerns.
Given the complexity of the matters involved, the recommendations are both specific to the mines in question and also apply to mining generally. They focus on improving compliance and managing the risks of gas in a coal mine, including by:
- requiring a review of gas drainage to be implemented and verified prior to the commencement of a longwall operation, and critically assessing gas emissions modelling for long wall panels (in light of margins for error in predictive modelling and flaws in gas emission modelling);
- requiring coal mines to regularly assess production rates and adjust them as necessary to ensure they do not result in gas emissions exceeding the capacity of the gas drainage system;
- requiring all underground workers be provided with personal proximity devices that allow location tracking and which must be active for the entire time the workers are underground; and
- mandating risk assessments for the use of polymeric chemicals, especially polyurethane resins, which includes a consideration of the risk of spontaneous combustion of coal being initiated by the product, before introduction and application at site.
The BOI also made a number of recommendations about labour hire and contract employment arrangements, including in relation to induction, consultation, contract terms, and bonus structures. A number of legislative amendments were recommended in this area, including in relation to the primary duty of care for the safety of labour hire workers.
The Government has stated that it expects to work with the Queensland Resources Council and mining companies on an industry action plan to address recommendations in the Report.
In the meantime, the recommendations should be closely considered by the mining and resources industries. More broadly, this is a timely reminder regarding eliminating safety risks, management of labour hire and contract workers, and the need to empower workers to report safety concerns as soon as they are identified.
You can read the BOI's complete list of findings and recommendations in the Part 2 Report accessible here.