Informa Markets

Author Bio ▼

Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
October 17, 2011

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

Hain urges Government to address mining-rescue flaws

The heroic but unsuccessful attempt to rescue four miners at the Gleision colliery in south Wales last month was seriously hampered by a lack of resources, the Shadow Welsh Secretary has claimed.

Peter Hain said today (17 October) that had the miners still been alive, their recovery would have been jeopardised by a shortage of resources and emergency back-up. Submitting a report to the Government on the attempts to rescue the miners, who were trapped following an inrush of water and material, Mr Hain calls for the Mines Rescue Service to be properly resourced and provided with access to the Treasury Reserve, so that its future rescue and investigation duties can be properly and professionally discharged.

He also calls on the outcome of Professor Löfstedt’s yet-to-be-published review of health and safety to be considered in the light of Gleision and demands that any attempt to weaken, or merge mines regulations must be resisted.

In the report, he argues: “The Gleision mine tragedy in September 2011 identified a potentially lethal flaw in the resourcing of the Mines Rescue Service and the South Wales Police Authority, which the Government needs urgently to address. Otherwise, should there be another tragedy, both the rescue and investigation could be badly compromised: only goodwill prevented that happening at Gleision.”

At one point, while the men were still trapped underground, generators powering water pumps in the flooded mine were almost switched off because none of the public agencies was able to pay the bill. Only the willingness of the nearby Walters Mine to pay a £4500 bill for diesel fuel prevented this from happening.

According to Mr Hain, the subsequent Police/HSE investigation, which is ongoing, also depended on Walters Mining, Unity Mining and Metal Innovations Ltd releasing their part-time mines-rescue staff, as well as other mining personnel, including pit deputies, mechanical fitters and electricians.

Mr Hain explains: “To their credit there was never any question of the companies not cooperating. But they were not paid for the release of men who would otherwise have been working productively underground for companies that have to survive in a tough, competitive marketplace.”

“Before 16.00 on 16 September, when the last dead miner was recovered and the operation turned from rescue to investigation, the rescue effort was effectively being funded from the internal budgets of Walters and Unity Mining companies. Only after that were the Police able to pay the bills.”

As well as asking Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to resource the Mines Rescue Service properly, Mr Hain has sent the report to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, calling on the Government to establish its own review of the lessons of Gleision, as separate from the ongoing Police/HSE investigation. The review should, ideally, endorse the case for the Mines Rescue Service to be retained as a standalone organisation, with its own unique skills and statutory functions, as well as examine the role of the HSE’s Mines Inspectorate, adds Mr Hain.

His report concludes: “The Principal Mines Inspector, together with rescue and other workers, performed heroically throughout the three weeks of the operation. But that should not detract from the very serious flaws Gleision has revealed. These must be urgently addressed by the Government.”

The Gleision disaster is the most high-profile of a recent spate of incidents in the mining industry. Last month, a man was killed in a roof fall at a colliery in North Yorkshire, and last week a miner was rescued from a pit in the Neath Valley after he became trapped under rubble following a roof collapse.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Police forces can apply to the Home Office for special grant funding to help them meet significant costs incurred in exceptional circumstances. We have not yet received a formal request from South Wales Police. However, should we receive such a request, ministers will consider it carefully.”

SHP has also contacted the Department for Work and Pensions for a response. Following the Gleision incident, the HSE issued a safety alert to the mining industry.

The Safety Conversation Podcast: Listen now!

The Safety Conversation with SHP (previously the Safety and Health Podcast) aims to bring you the latest news, insights and legislation updates in the form of interviews, discussions and panel debates from leading figures within the profession.

Find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts, subscribe and join the conversation today!

Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments