Australia: Moranbah Mine Explosion May Have Started With Ignition of Gas Along Coal Face Mine Safety Inquiry Under Consideration
May 7, 2020 - Queensland, Australia Mines Minister Anthony Lynham is flagging a possible inquiry into mine safety after five workers were critically injured in an explosion at Anglo American's Grosvenor coal mine at Moranbah yesterday.
The underground explosion at the central Queensland operation left all of the miners with significant injuries.
Lynham flew to the mine site today and said he has asked for urgent advice about establishing a board of inquiry to look at broader issues around sparking and ignition.
Earlier today, the miners' union said the operation had had a "problem with gas" for a long time.
"Mines inspectors are already investigating this incident and I expect a full and thorough investigation," Lynham said.
"However, I can also ask an inquiry to look at the broader issue of other instances of sparking, ignition or fire across the industry.
"We want answers to why this event occurred. We demand answers and an appropriate investigation will follow.
"We are throwing the kitchen sink at this issue."
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said a board of inquiry could involve public hearings.
"I'll be getting some legal advice around that and Lynham will be making a recommendation to me later on today," she said.
Gas Recorded Above Safe Levels
Four state government mine inspectors are at the site and will go underground to investigate when gas levels return to a safe level.
The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) said union safety inspectors were also at the mine and will undertake a thorough, independent investigation into what caused a possible ignition of gas on the longwall face.
Jason Hill, the CFMEU industry safety and health representative, said several safety issues from the mine had been reported to the union.
While they did not yet know what had caused this ignition, there had been several incidents where gas had been recorded above safe levels.
"This mine's had a problem with gas for a long time which they were struggling to get their handle on," he said.
Hill said all there were employed under labor hire, which he said creates an issue about speaking up.
"A lot of complaints we get are that if they speak up, they won't be there tomorrow … that's a real safety concern with us," he said.
"We can't keep travelling like this, we're living on luck."
Work has been suspended at the mine site.
Photo: ABC News, Jemima Burt
The five miners were seriously burnt in the explosion and had to be flown in separate aircraft to Brisbane with doctors and nurses treating them on board.
Four of the men, aged 43, 45 and 51, were in a critical condition on Thursday afternoon, while a fifth man, 44, was in a good condition.
QAS operations manager Doug Buchanan said they have "significant" upper torso and airway burns.
"Four of the gentlemen required intubation and ventilation," Buchanan said.
Work at the mine is suspended as an investigation into the cause of the blast continues.
Previous Safety Concerns Investigated
Queensland's chief inspector of coal mines Peter Newman told ABC Radio Brisbane the mine had regular inspections, and his department had been in contact with them in the past month.
When asked if there were any safety concerns at that point he said: "There were".
"As in all inspections undertaken at mine sites, whenever you bring a fresh pair of eyes to an operation there are always either recommendations for improvements in certain aspects of the mine, or a directive in terms of the mine taking particular action."
Newman was reluctant to say whether the safety concerns were the cause of the explosion.
"They are monitoring the gas environment underground," he said.
"Until such time that the monitoring and analysis of gas readings determines that there is a safe environment for people to return underground, it's premature for me to speculate what the nature and cause of this incident was," he said.
A sign for Anglo American's Grosvenor underground coal mine at Moranbah in central Queensland.
'It Could Have Been Worse Case Scenario'
The CFMEU's Steven Smyth said there were five miners in the vicinity of the incident and others nearby when the blast occurred.
"The ignition of gas in the longwall section of the mine, particularly in a mine that's gassy, you've got a recipe for disaster," he said.
"It could have been worst case scenario of losing everybody that's working in that mine and that's not overplaying it," he said.
"You've only got to throw your mind back to Pike River in New Zealand or Moura in 1994.
"If you get it wrong and conditions are right the result could be catastrophic.
"No-one can play it down in how serious this was."
The mine is closed today as an investigation into the cause of the blast continues.(Supplied)
Smyth said any underground mine in Queensland, particularly those that have gas-related issues and longwalls, should stop work now and review immediately what they are doing.
"You can't have an incident like this and then it's business as usual. It ain't business as usual," he said.
"They should be stopping what they're doing … and if they can't provide a safe place, these operations need to stop until they get it right."
Not the First Accident at Moranbah
Anglo American's chief executive of its Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson, said the company wanted to ensure this type of incident never happened again.
"We are all devasted and we don't yet understand what caused this incident," he said.
"Once it is safe to return underground, we will commence an expert technical investigation to ensure we understand what has happened."
Isaac Regional Council Mayor Anne Baker said her thoughts were with the workers and their families, but unfortunately it was not the first mining accident the town had seen.
Last year there were four mining deaths in Queensland in a six-month period, prompting the union to declare a "safety crisis".
"Once again here we are, faced with another incident, another accident," she said.
"Workers in whatever industry we're in, particularly the coal mining industry, should be able to go to work and come home and their family should not be waiting at home wondering, 'Is that call going to come to my house tonight?'"