Coal mine forced to shut

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Solid Energy has been forced to stop underground mining at Spring Creek coal mine by the New Zealand Department of Labour.

The Department issued a prohibition notice on the mine yesterday for failing to report a number of safety incidents.

According to the acting chief inspector of mines, Gavin Taylor, over the past three weeks a diesel generator caught fire and spewed high concentrations of carbon monoxide throughout the underground mine; one of the main fans tripped with no alert to management for more than an hour; and a underground auxiliary fan tripped over two consecutive days but did not stop operations.

"Members of my team met Solid Energy and they determined the events represented failures in management processes," Taylor stated.

"The inspectors were very concerned that the issues had not been fully investigated, yet production had continued.

"The inspectors issued the prohibition notice which stopped the mine’s operations…which will only be lifted once Solid Energy has provided an explanation of the events, a thorough investigation has been carried out and engineering controls and management systems have been changed to prevent a recurrence of these issues,” he added.

Solid Energy’s COO Barry Brag admitted there were a number of breakdowns in Spring Creek’s safety systems, but added that "in each case there were multiple safety controls in place which proved effective.

"The company views these incidents very seriously, they should not have happened.

Earlier this morning, Bragg told the New Zealand Herald "our first control failed but we had other controls in place to ensure our staff were safe and we’re comfortable about that, but we’re running investigations about why the first control failed.”

He went on to refute the Department’s claims that a generator caught fire.

"It wasn’t a fire underground, it was surface compressor that overheated and led to a lot of smoke and some of that smoke got into our air compression system and that’s what the mine inspector was referring to. We have multiple controls in place to manage that event and we believe we managed it correctly.”

Regarding the investigation, Taylor stated that The company was open and responsive to the concerns that led us to issue the prohibition notice.

"We’ve told Solid Energy that providing this information meets our requirements, we will lift the prohibition notice.

"The Department does not expect to be able to make a decision on lifting the prohibition notice until sometime tomorrow as it will take at least the rest of today for Solid Energy to develop appropriate information for us to consider," he added.

Solid Energy has previously come under fire after allegations it had switched off gas sensors at its Huntley East coal mine.

A miner at the mine told local media workers had previously put rags over methane sensors – which automatically switch off mine equipment – when gas levels reached 1.25 per cent.

The worker said high gas levels had been constantly alerting sensors and switching off equipment, frustrating some employers.

“They have to stop what they’re doing, walk to their station, reset the equipment, then walk back and continue what they’re doing,” he said.

He said gas levels above 1.25 per cent had been common in the poorly ventilated sections of the mine employees had been working in.

But Solid Energy said it was confident the mine had been operating safely and it could not find any evidence to support the leaked allegations.

The work stoppage at Spring Creek is not expected to affect the mine’s production as it is currently in a development phase.

Around 230 personnel work at the mine, with only about 40 miners working underground.

The Department of Labour closed the Coromandel underground gold mine earlier this month for failing to comply with safety standards.

Image: http://www.stuff.co.nz

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