Bank influence on Beaconsfield Mine

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It is all too easy to misread the headline on page 7 of today’s Australian newspaper:

MacBank ‘had input’ into goldmine

This seems to confirm the recent statements by miners to the coronial inquest into Larry Knight’s death at Beaconsfield Mine, and accusations by unions.  The headline is based on the statements made by Michael Ryan who was the administrator to Allstate Explorations.  Ryan said that the Macquarie Bank had representatives on the joint venture committee and those bank representatives asked questions about the mine.  However Ryan could not recall if questions were raised by them about production levels.  

Ryan said that Matthew Gill, the mine manager, had made several unsuccessful attempts to have government safety inspectors visit the mine.  The article does not specify the reason for Gill’s attempts.

Michael Ryan said that he would approve any expenditure on safety at the mine.

The article says that in the month prior to the April 2006 rockfall, Ryan asked about safety in the mine.

“He said he asked Mr Gill on a number of occasions if the mine was safe, including in March 2006, after observing an unusual number of rocks caught in support mesh. “(Gill’s) answers were to the effect that it was (safe).”

Matthew Gill has spoken publicly several times about his experiences following the rockfall and is now on the professional speakers’ circuit.  He was appointed the Managing Director of Monarch Gold Mining Company.

Crandall Canyon Mine Investigation Report

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On 24 July 2008 the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced that it has fined the operator of the Crandall Canyon Mine in Emery County, Utah, $1,340,000 for violations that directly contributed to the deaths of six miners in 2007.

According to MSHA’s media release, Agapito Associates Inc., a mining engineering consultant, was fined $220,000 for faulty analysis of the mine’s design. MSHA cited the mine operator for 11 additional, non-contributory violations issued as the result of the investigation. The proposed penalty for these violations is $296,664, bringing the total proposed penalties against the mine operator to $1,636,664. Crandall Canyon Mine is operated by Genwal Resources Inc., whose parent company is Murray Energy Corp.

Safety At Work magazine covered the incident extensively as it provided a stained mirror to the lucky rescue of the miners from Tasmania’s Beaconsfield mine. I reported elsewhere on the fresh seismology findings.

Safety at Work magazine - August 2007
Safety at Work magazine - August 2007

The MSHA report states that

“Three separate methods of analysis employed as part of MSHA’s investigation confirmed that the mining plan was destined to fail.” (my emphasis)

To a non-US observer the fine seems remarkably light given that the mining plan was critically deficient, 6 people died in the first incident and 3 died ten days later.

Not everyone is happy with how the investigation has been conducted.

MSHA accident investigators have cited Genwal Resources Inc. and Agapito Associates Inc. for the following violations:

  • The mine operator did not immediately contact MSHA after coal outbursts threw coal into the mine openings and disrupted regular mining activities for more than one hour on three separate occasions prior to the August 6 outburst.
  • The mine operator failed to propose revisions to the roof control plan when conditions (coal outbursts) clearly indicated that the plan was inadequate and miners were being exposed to dangerous conditions.
  • The operator violated the approved roof control plan by removing coal that was required to support the roof.
  • The operator’s outside engineering firm failed to recommend safe mining methods and pillar/barrier dimensions, and the operator failed to maintain pillar dimensions that would effectively control coal outbursts.

The complete accident investigation report (16 megabyte) is available at as is MSHA’s response and additional content.

The earlier investigation report by the Utah Mine Safety Commission is available HERE

Imperial Sugar explosion update

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Last month America’s 60 Minutes broadcast an article on the explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant (pictured below) in Port Wentworth which killed 13 workers and hospitalised 40.  On 25 July 2008, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued citations proposing penalties totalling $8,777,500 against the Imperial Sugar Co. and its two affiliates alleging violations at their plants in Port Wentworth and Gramercy. 

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released some details about its appearance at the US Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, on 29 July 2008. (Transcripts and video are available HERE)

CSB Chairman John Bresland said the tragedy demonstrates the need for a new OSHA standard that would cover a range of industries exposed to this hazard, such as food, chemicals, plastics, automotive parts, pharmaceuticals, electrical power (where generated by coal) and others.
According to the CSB, Chairman Bresland told the subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington,

‘After witnessing the terrible human and physical toll from the Imperial explosion, I believe the urgency of a new combustible dust standard is greater than ever. A new standard, combined with enforcement and education, will save workers’ lives.’
‘We obtained documents indicating that certain parts of Imperial’s milling process were releasing tens of thousands of pounds of sugar per month into the work area. Based on our evidence, Imperial did not have a written dust control program or a program for using safe dust removal methods. And the company lacked a formal training program to educate its workers about combustible dust hazards.’

Bresland emphasised the need for a uniform Federal standard:

‘Instead of the present patchwork of miscellaneous federal, state, and local requirements, the Chemical Safety Board has recommended that OSHA develop a single, comprehensive, uniform standard – based on the sound, consensus-based technical principles and practices that are embodied in NFPA standards,’ Chairman Bresland said.  ‘Ambiguities in the NFPA standards need to be resolved in clear, enforceable regulations developed by a thorough, public rulemaking process.’



Beaconsfield mine supervisor’s safety comments

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It is reported in today’s Australian newspaper that the coronial inquest into the death of Larry Knight has heard from Mr Knight’s supervisor, Gavan Cheesman.  Mr Cheesman has said that he was not aware of a report of seismic activity at level 925 (the scene of the fatal rockfall) from the previous shift.  If he had

“I would have gone down personally and checked out the area before sending them (Knight, Russell and Webb) in”.

This reinforces the importance of taking time before a job or shift starts to familiarise yourself with the state of the workplace.  In many industries this takes the form of a job safety analysis.  In hospitals there is a handover process between nursing staff.

Mr Cheesman has also said that he believes that the void at levels 915 and 925 was too large and insufficiently supported.  He agreed that the inadequate support contriubuted to the rockfall that caused the death of Larry Knight.

The inquest is continuing.

Inquiry into health impacts of maintaining jet-fighter fuel tanks

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Earlier this century the Australian Defence Force established the F-111 Deseal-Reseal Health Care Scheme to compensate workers who may have been affected through exposure to chemicals while cleaning F111 fighter aircraft between 1977 and the late 1990s.

A parliamentary inquiry has been established to further investigate the issue of compensation. In the 29 July 2008 edition of The Australian newspaper details of the work exposures have been restated.

“More than 800 RAAF personnel were forced to do the work on the fuel tanks, removing old sealant using chemicals.

The work was done because of a basic flaw in the design of the aircraft — their fuel tanks did not include a bladder, and the sealant used on rivets to stop leaking had to be replaced at regular intervals.”

Details of the impact of this work on workers and their families have also been restated. Ian Fraser, Queensland president of the F-111 Deseal-Reseal support group has said that

“former workers now suffer temper swings, drug abuse and broken marriages — and some had committed suicide.

A significant number have died from cancer, which Mr Fraser’s organisation says is directly attributable to them being made to work with the chemicals — particularly one known as SR51.”

Those OHS professionals who have read Professor Andrew Hopkins’ book “Safety, Risk and Culture” should be familiar with the case as Hopkins investigated the issue and devoted a chapter to his book on the F111 Deseal/Reseal process.  A review of the Hopkins book is available online as is a useful article by Hopkins on safety culture.

It is worth remembering that exposure to chemicals and inadequate protection is not something from the developing nations or from Western industrial history.  These workers faced unacceptable risks within the last twenty years.