May 13, 2021
Mineworkers are back underground at Grosvenor mine a year after a shocking explosion at the longwall face badly injured five miners; and at Moranbah North mine three months after an underground fire.
The anniversary of the 6 May Grosvenor explosion was a sobering day as workers and the mining community reflected on the fallout of the terrible accident, said Queensland District President Steve Smyth.
“As one of the injured workers Wayne Sellars put it – ‘It was like standing in a blowtorch’. The five miners injured in the longwall blast still have a long road to recovery and our thoughts are with them and their families,” he said.
“I still get chills when I think about getting the news about the explosion at Grosvenor. An underground explosion is every underground miner’s worst nightmare.”
Anglo began the Grosvenor re-entry two weeks before the 6 May anniversary. After a tough year, the Grosvenor workforce did a tremendous job on the re-entry, which is now complete, said Steve. The mine is now being prepared to restart production.
However, the performance and attitude of Anglo’s senior leadership team left much to be desired during the re-entry process.
Union check inspectors were not given notice about the re-entry and workers were subjected to stressful interviews about their mental health ahead of returning underground.
“No-one questions the need for workers to be mental and emotionally healthy when they return underground at Grosvenor,” said Steve.
“They have been through a very traumatic experience. But Anglo has had the best part of a year to assess and support the mental health needs of its workforce at Grosvenor. To put these labour hire workers on the spot, making them fear they’ll be targeted or lose their job, created unnecessary stress and lack of trust.
“Considering they’ve blown up two out of their three Queensland underground mines in the past year, I’m not sure why Anglo’s management team think they can be so arrogant.”
At the time of the explosion in May last year, the union vowed to leave no stone unturned in understanding and addressing the causes of the explosion.
The union advocated strongly for the Queensland Government to establish a broad-ranging inquiry that looked at issues across the industry – including employment practices. The Coal Mining Board of Inquiry is still underway.
“We don’t think you can separate the circumstances around the explosion at Grosvenor from the fact that the entire production workforce were casual labour hire contractors,” said Steve Smyth.
“Time and again we see that labour hire workers don’t have the confidence and security to speak up about safety.”
Injured Wayne Sellars told the Board of Inquiry that labour hire workers were treated differently to permanent workers.
“It’s just the way it is. In a permanent workforce you’ve got more of a voice to speak up. We were punished if someone injured themselves, we’d lose our bonus on site. That breeds bad culture; it puts everyone off-side.”
The union will hold the Government to account for implementing the findings of the Board of Inquiry, just as we will keep holding Anglo to account for actions and treatment of workers.
Re-entry at Moranbah North began on 7 May, beginning the process of making the mine compliant ahead of production resuming. The mine was evacuated on 20 February due to high gas levels causing a combustion event in the goaf.
A union safety inspector was present at the re-entry and raised concerns about availability of gas data and management of flooded areas of the mine. The union will continue to be closely involved in activity at both mines.
Steve Smyth said the confidence of Queensland underground coal miners has been rattled by a series of events in the sector over the past couple of years.
“As well as Grosvenor and Moranbah North, we’ve had the fire that burnt out of control at Peabody’s North Goonyella mine.
“We’ve also had a number of other ignition events such as spontaneous combustion (Cook and Ensham mines) and repeated damage to electrical equipment in explosion zones (Oaky North mine).
“Coal miners should not fear for their lives when they head underground to work. Underground mine operators and regulators have a lot of work to do to reassure workers of their safety and we will hold them to account every step of the way.”
In a silver lining, the union’s active involvement has encouraged more Grosvenor mineworkers, who are all employed through One Key, to join the union.