The Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry’s Part 2 report was tabled in the Queensland Parliament on Monday 14 June 2021 by Minister for Resources, the Hon. Scott Stewart MP.
The Board of Inquiry was established by the Minister following a serious accident that occurred at the Grosvenor Mine on 6 May 2020, as well as 40 methane exceedance high potential incidents (HPIs) that occurred at various mines between 1 July 2019 and 5 May 2020. The mines at which the HPIs occurred were the Anglo American plc (Anglo) Grosvenor, Grasstree, and Moranbah North mines and the Glencore plc Oaky North mine.
The Board of Inquiry conducted an independent and thorough investigation.
Part 1 of the report considered the HPIs that occurred at each of the mines except Grosvenor.
Part 2 if the report deals with the Board’s inquiry into the HPIs that occurred at Grosvenor, and the serious accident. It also includes chapters relating to labour hire arrangements, and the functions of Industry Safety and Health Representatives and Site Safety and Health Representatives.
The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) said the Board of Inquiry’s final report paints a shocking picture of safety management at Grosvenor, finding that workers at the underground coal mine were exposed to unacceptable risk for months before last May’s explosion.
CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland President, Stephen Smyth, said the Union will review all of the report’s findings and recommendations in the days and weeks ahead.
Mr Smyth said the most shocking thing to come out of the report was the detailed account of Anglo’s failure to manage dangerous gases at Grosvenor in the months leading up to the blast.
“I felt sick reading the detail about Anglo’s recklessness,” said Mr Smyth.
“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.”
“The report clearly finds that ‘coal mine workers were repeatedly subject to an unacceptable level or risk’ (Finding 58).”
“Last year’s explosion was a shocking and traumatic event and it makes my blood run cold to think that the outcome could have been much worse,” he said.
“Coal mine workers 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.”
CEO of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson, said the company is already acting on the recommendations of the Board of Inquiry’s new report. This includes investing more than $60 million in safety initiatives over the last year.
“We are today committing a further $5 million to fund underground mining research, in partnership with our industry research and technology partners, to improve the industry’s knowledge in certain technical areas,” Mr Mitchelson said.
“We have been clear from the outset that the incident on 6 May 2020 in which five of our colleagues were badly injured was unacceptable. The safety of our workforce is always our first priority.”
“Over the past 12 months, we have put in place a range of measures to address issues that have come to light through detailed investigations and evidence before the Board of Inquiry. Over this period, we have already committed more than $60 million in technology pilots, additional gas drainage infrastructure, expert reviews and further improvements to a range of processes and controls,” he said.
“Underground coal mining, particularly in the area where Grosvenor Mine is located, is complex with many interacting considerations and, as the Board has identified, further research into certain technical areas such as gas and spontaneous combustion management would benefit the industry. We will be helping to advance knowledge in these areas through our further $5 million funding commitment.”
Mr Mitchelson said the Board of Inquiry’s reports have made a number of recommendations, and the company is confident that it has already addressed, or will address, these ahead of the restart of longwall mining at Grosvenor Mine later this year.
“Anglo American’s Operating Model, our primary operational management system, is currently being updated at Grosvenor and, together with a range of other measures such as the use of data science, it will ensure we have the very latest in systems thinking, design and technology to ensure operational stability and control, and ultimately safe production,” he said.
“The use of automation and remote operation presents us with the single biggest opportunity to remove people from high-risk areas and we are fast-tracking this work across our operations, including commissioning ground-breaking research into automation in development mining with CSIRO.”
Mr Mitchelson said following the implementation of the recommendations from the Board of Inquiry, the industry would be safer.
“The Board of Inquiry undertook a very thorough examination of a range of issues relating to underground coal mining, and we have been committed to learning everything we can from the process and acting as quickly as possible to implement improvements,” he commented.
“Over the past 12 months, we have engaged closely with our workforce, particularly at Grosvenor, as we’ve worked through the issues and resumed underground activities at the mine last month. We are continuing to support all of our colleagues involved in the incident in May last year, and this will remain a priority for our team.”