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April 16, 2013

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Underground worker killed by falling load at colliery

UK Coal Mining Ltd has been ordered to pay £300,000 in fines and costs after a locomotive driver died when 40 steel pipes fell on him at a colliery in Nottinghamshire.

John Harbron, 47, was working underground with colleagues at Thoresby Colliery, which is owned by UK Coal Mining Ltd, when the incident took place on 24 July 2009.

He was preparing to unload a pack of steel pipes from a rail-borne car, and he cut the plastic bands securing them in place. They rolled off the car and landed on him, resulting in fatal crush injuries. Each pipe was approximately 13 feet in length and the whole pack weighed nearly three tonnes.

The HSE investigated the incident and found the type of car used to transport the pipes was unsuitable. The pipes did not sit evenly, which meant they could become unstable on tilted track. Because the floor profile of the underground track can change daily, the tilt of the track can vary.

Inspectors also learned that in the 18 months prior to the incident, there were four written reports by locomotive drivers of pipe packs becoming unstable when they were made ready for manual unloading. However, managers failed to read all the reports, or act on the concerns.

HSE inspector Peter McGuinness said: “For a significant period before this incident it was well known that pipe packs on this type of car were difficult to transport and unload underground in confined tunnels. These difficulties should have raised managers’ concerns and initiated a review of the risks and systems of work, leading to simple improvements to safety and efficiency. Sadly, that did not happen.

“The dangers were not formally communicated to all the drivers to make them aware of what could happen. As a result, they were exposed to a great, but avoidable, risk on many occasions over a significant period.

“The failure of UK Coal to draw and act on the experience and concerns of its employees and contractors was a tragic waste with tragic consequences.”

UK Coal Mining appeared at Nottingham Crown Court on 15 April and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined a total of £125,000 and ordered to pay £175,000 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said it has carried out a number of improvements following the incident. It has changed the design and shape of pipe packs and its packaging. It also now uses a different type of car to ensure the pipes sat evenly when they were being transported. The firm has also revised its procedures for reporting near-misses and the handling of reports from workmen.

The group has subsequently undergone a restructure and UK Coal Mining Ltd has ceased trading and has no assets. As a result, the court was told it didn’t have means to pay any financial penalty.

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11 years ago

UK Coal in the dock again. God knows how many times this company has been prosecuted for fatalities in the last few years. I note that the company has ceased trading, is that UK Coal Mining Ltd or UK Coal Ltd? There is still an active website for UK Coal Ltd. Scandalous!

11 years ago

24 July 2009 until 15 April 2013 – why does it take nearly 4 years to close a straightforward case like this?