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UK Coal admits safety breach after Kellingley pit explosion

29 October 2013

On October 22 the former UK Coal Mining company was sentenced for safety failings that led to an underground pit explosion and the evacuation of more than 200 miners from Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire. The methane gas explosion at Yorkshire’s last remaining deep mine happened during the evening shift on 23 November 2010. 

The incident was investigated by the Mines Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought the prosecution at Leeds Crown Court.

The court was told that an explosive mixture of flammable gases had accumulated close to the area where miners were working because a safety curtain, designed to keep gases safely behind the coal face, was inadequately maintained.

HSE found the curtain was damaged with one section cut and another removed, rendering it ineffective and allowing the explosive methane mixture to gradually move closer to the working area and to potential ignition sources. It was likely ignited initially by sandstone falling on to sandstone.

Some 218 miners were safely evacuated from Kellingley’s 501’s District. Dozens of further minor explosions took place just behind the coal face as accumulated gas ignited – probably from a residual hanging flame – and then burnt off. It was nearly three weeks before production was able to resume.

The former UK Coal Mining Ltd was fined £50,000 after pleading guilty to a single breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company went into administration in July.

It was agreed that although prosecution costs were properly incurred they would not be awarded so as not to jeopardise any potential payments to the Miners’ Pensioners’ Coal Allowance, a main creditor with limited financial assets.

After the hearing, HSE Principal Mines Inspector Bob Leeming said:

“If the explosion had occurred 20 minutes earlier, ten men would have been right in it and we could have been dealing with a fatal incident. However, this happened near the end of the shift and the workers were at a safe enough distance when the gas ignited. In only slightly different circumstances, the outcome could have been very different.

“UK Coal Mining Ltd failed to recognise the risks of localised sandstone falls, that are part of the normal sequence of mining, nor properly specify the design and standard to be maintained of the protective curtain.

“In addition the workforce had not been fully educated in the purpose of the curtain and its vital importance in controlling the gas fringe at the tailgate end of the face.

“This case highlights the importance of adequate risk assessments and the need to properly educate and inform the workforce so that control measures are understood and properly implemented.

There have been 15 fatalities in mines in Great Britain since 2006, most recently four deaths at Gleision in South Wales in September 2011, and a fatality at Kellingley nine days later.

In the last incident a miner was killed by rockfall, which resulted in UK Coal’s administrators pleading guilty and being fined £200,000.

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