Ex-miner ‘calls BS’ on safety claims
A FORMER underground miner at Anglo American's Grosvenor mine "calls BS" on claims the mining giant prioritises safety, after documents obtained by The Australian uncovered the mine had had nearly 100 methane alerts in the four years prior to May's near-lethal explosion.
Wade Rothery, who worked as an underground miner at the Moranbah mine in 2016 before he was deemed unable to work after an injury in January 2019, claims the company has previously let go of workers who have raised safety concerns.
"There have been incidents where (a subcontractor) has lost his job because he stood up to a safety issue," Mr Rothery said.
"He was told there was no more work for him … But they replaced him with another worker, so it's not as if his position was made redundant.
"I do call BS on some of their thoughts on them prioritising safety."
Mr Rothery said the safety issue in that instance was large enough to temporarily stop production, and the worker was let go around one week after he had raised concerns.
According to internal Queensland government and corporate documents, the Grosvenor mine was plagued by underground "floor heaves" throughout 2016 and 2017, resulting in the release of "uncontrolled" levels of methane gas.
Documents show that in October 2017 mine inspectors warned the company that there may be unregistered explosive levels of methane due to the concentration of methane going potentially undetected.
From January to May 2018 the mine recorded 32 "high potential incidents", the documents revealed.
Mine inspectors would meet with executives in May of 2018 to discuss the continued methane incidents, stating they were "unsatisfactory" and should be "preferably eliminated."
Between February 2016 and the day of the day of the explosion in May this year, the mining giant recorded a total of 98 methane alerts.
The blast on May 6 left four workers in a critical condition, and a fifth with serious injuries.
Four men, who The Courier-Mail understand were placed into induced comas for some weeks after the incident, still remain in hospital at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital burns unit.
The fifth man, identified as Turi Wiki, was sent home from hospital around two weeks after the explosion.
According to Mr Rothery, each time methane was detected in the mine, workers in the pit would receive a call Anglo American bosses overseas.
"Gas trips were constant the whole time I was there working on the long face," Mr Rothery said.
"The thing is, is that everything's computerised now. So when the shearer stops, people in London can see and then you have the big CEOs of Anglo ringing the pit saying 'the shearers been down for half an hour, what's the problem?' And (the pit will say) 'well, we've hit gas' … (and the CEOs say) 'well hurry and get it going."
"It works its way down and we're there, we're the guinea pigs underground and we've got to do what we get told otherwise, you know, we could lose our jobs."
"They really use a scare campaign to say there's a lot of other people lining up to take your job, so if you don't want to do it, then leave. We feel like we're the minions on the ground and we have to do what we get told. Otherwise, they throw the 'there's no more work' card at you.
"They make you feel like there's 100 other guys looking for your job and that you're very expendable."
An Anglo American spokeswoman said the mining company has a vision of zero harm, and as such has extensive safety management systems and processes in place across all operations, which draw on international best practice.
The spokeswoman said the company was fully co-operating with the Queensland Government's board of inquiry, and wanted answers as to why an ignition of methane occurred at Grosvenor mine.
Mr Rothery said some large mining companies were relying on a completely contract-based workforce, instead of hiring permanent staff.
He said underground workers, who he said treat each other like family, are being stripped of their rights as a result.
"You can't get a contract pit to go on strike over safety issues because they don't have a union," he said.
"They don't have the power that a permanent pit does, and the problem is that these mines are trying to make a contract pit so they don't give the workers a voice.
"Underground workers are like family. We care for each other, we stand up for each other, we actually see each other more times in a year than what we see our family. We're like best friends. And I just feel that the mining companies are trying to take that out.
"It's giving the little guys less of a voice."
Mr Rothery, who is standing in the October state election as the One Nation candidate in the central Queensland seat of Keppel, said he would push for mine safety reforms if elected, and has already broached the topic with Senator Hanson.
Read Anglo American's full response below
"As a global mining company with a vision of zero harm, Anglo American has extensive safety management systems and processes in place across all operations, which draw on international best practice. Safety is a core Value for Anglo American and always comes first. We fully investigate every safety-related incident to ensure that leanings are captured, and responded to.
We communicate regularly with our workforce and ask them to speak up with any safety concerns, because we know that raising and addressing any issues will make our mines safer.
Around 18 months ago Grosvenor Mine introduced a behavioural safety program to address safety performance and focus everyone on playing their part and speaking up on safety. We have multiple channels available for our workforce members to raise concerns, including a confidential, anonymous reporting service that is managed by a third party.
Underground mining is technically complex and highly regulated, with the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act enabling a high level of oversight and scrutiny of operations by the Queensland Mines Inspectorate and union statutory officials.
As the largest underground coal miner in Queensland, we have been at the forefront of technical innovation and have invested significantly in technology to improve safety in our mines, including additional methane detection equipment, digitisation to improve underground communication and automation of equipment. We will continue to prioritise work in this area, and we expect that emergent technological solutions will form part of our response to the incident.
Our underground mines are located in a methane-rich area of the Bowen Basin, and we proactively manage this through a number of measures, including the draining of gas before and during mining and the installation of extensive ventilation infrastructure. We intentionally exceed the regulatory requirements at our mines by having a higher number of methane sensors and have additional controls than what is specified in the regulations. Many of the HPIs reported to the Mines Inspectorate were from methane exceedances picked up by these additional sensors, and are a demonstration of the strong reporting culture and compliance within our operations.
Mine Record Entries (MREs), as published by The Australian newspaper, are reports that issued by the Queensland Mines Inspectorate or union statutory officials (Industry Safety and Health Representatives) following mine site inspections. They are published at sites and made available to all coal mine workers. Anglo American comprehensively responds to all MREs, directives and High Potential Incidents (HPIs).
In the two years between 1 July 2018 and 15 June 2020, the Inspectorate issued 2,872 directives and substandard condition or practice notices relating to safety and compliance at Queensland mines and quarries. Grosvenor Mine accounted for just 13 of these - less than 0.5%. We comply with any directives that are provided following inspections at our mines.
We are fully co-operating with the Queensland Government's Board of Inquiry. It would be premature for anyone to pre-empt this process by speculating about the significance of information or incidents outside this inquiry and other investigations underway.
We want answers as to why an ignition of methane occurred at Grosvenor Mine, and we understand that everyone else does too. Through our own expert investigation and other inquiries underway, we know we will learn more to help us to improve the management of methane and safety in underground mining. We will share the results of our technical investigation with our workforce as soon as possible as well as additional controls that we will put in place to prevent this kind of incident occurring again."
Originally published as Ex-miner 'calls BS' on safety claims