Please note javascript is required for full website functionality.
Covering the Central Highlands
Central West Queensland

Business & Rural

22 April, 2021

Injured mine worker said company 'neglected' warning signs

A MAN who was severely injured in a mining explosion last year, alleged his bosses “were not listening” to the workers regarding safety issues. Wayne Sellars has had over 10 separate surgeries because of his injuries after a methane explosion at the Grosvenor Mine, near Moranbah, on May 6, 2020. A shearer driver for Mastermyne at the time of the incident, Mr Sellars has been a coal miner for 13 years, most of which spent at other mines. In a prepared statement for the Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry, he said the day of his accident had started like any other day. “All of a sudden, there was a pressure wave and the ventilation changed direction and stalled,” Mr Sellars said. “The air was dead still. “There was no noise associated with the first pressure wave.” Mr Sellars said the wave stopped the power where he was. “All the lights went out and the pumps, mimics, and AC stopped,” he said. “It was completely dark except for our cap lamps. “There was a second pressure wave... As the second pressure wave occurred, I heard a clap like a rock being dropped from a height onto another rock.” Mr Sellars said he then saw blue flame which totally engulfed him. “At the time it felt like eternity,” he said. “I closed my eyes and held my breath. “I remember thinking to myself, “This is it. What’s on the other side? I then thought, “F&*k this, I’m not dying here.” He said he recalls the trip to the surface, and the whole time worrying about a second explosion. Transferred to Royal Brisbane Hospital in a coma that night, Mr Sellars had two debriding surgeries and was put on dialysis for kidney failure in the following days. He spent three weeks in ICU for his burns and was re-admitted for blood clots in his lungs the following weeks. He will need a further three to seven surgeries this year and needs to wear burn suits for up to 23 hours a day. He told the Inquiry last Wednesday, requests to implement different safety strategies were often “rejected” or only “implemented in part”. This included what he claimed as an “unwillingness” to evacuate mining workers during times of methane gas exceedances, the eventual cause of the explosion. “We would just wait for the gas levels to drop, hose chocks, and just keep busy,” he said. “Time and money” he said were the only downsides to implementing safety measures that may have prevented the explosion that left him with severe burns. He said, when there were exceedances of methane, workers would be let aware, but often, no action would be taken on part of the employers. He said they would ask to slow down the shearer speeds to keep the ventilation down. While working in Grosvenor Mine, Mr Sellars said he was managing a fault in the roof, and he said he could see it getting bigger as time went on. They would manage it through pumping, the act of removing liquids which creates a cleaner shear, but management would often refuse to allow a full pumping to occur. Furthermore, when workers asked to change from bi-di cutting to uni-di cutting to reduce the risk of fire, management would sometimes refuse. B-di is the act of cutting from both directions, and while a faster process, creates more sparks. “We had methane bubbling through the floor for quite some time,” Mr Sellars said. “We had water [which would mix with the methane] on the floor, and it would bubble up through holes in the floor.” He said the shearer oftentimes did not automatically stop during those moments. “We were concerned for our safety so we could request pumping,” Mr Sellars said. He said the responses of coordinators and superintendents were slow and tedious. “Sometimes they would [allow for pumping] and sometimes they would [make us] just try to struggle through,” he said. He told the inquiry that the treatment of workers in mines had gone downhill now that most workers were contracts. A former permanent worker and now labour-hire worker, Mr Sellars urged other workers to unionise. “Have a union to back you,” he said. “It’s hard to find words for it, contractors are just treated differently, that’s just the way it is. He said a permanent workforce has more of a voice. “if someone is injured, we lose our bonus,” he said. “It puts everyone offside.” In a statement to media after Wednesday's hearing, Anglo American's Metallurgical Coal business CEO Tyler Mitchelson said it was unacceptable that “our colleagues were injured at Grosvenor Mine last May”. "We acknowledge the life-altering impact this incident has had on them and their families," he said. "As we work to put in place measures to improve the future safe operation of Grosvenor Mine, we will pay close attention to Mr Sellars' testimony."

By Michael R Williams

Wayne Sellars testifying before the Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry

Most Popular