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COURT IMPOSES NEAR ‘MINIMUM’ FINES AFTER FOUR DEATHS

Safety failings resulted in loss of four lives in four separate coal mine incidents

UK Coal Mining Ltd has been fined £450,000 for safety failings that resulted in the death of four mineworkers in separate incidents at two collieries in Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands.

The company was sentenced at Sheffield Crown Court on 14 December 2011 for four breaches of HSW Act Section 2(1) and three breaches of HSW Act Section 3 in connection to the deaths. UK Coal pleaded guilty to all seven breaches at an earlier hearing in proceedings brought by the HSE.

The fatal incidents were:

  • 19 June 2006: supervisor Trevor Steeples died at Daw Mill colliery and was asphyxiated due to oxygen deprivation when he was exposed to high levels of methane in part of the mine.
  • 6 August 2006: mineworker Paul Hunt died at Daw Mill after falling from a poorly maintained underground transporter into the path of a moving ‘train’. UK Coal accepted failing to prevent unsafe man-riding on the transporter and failing to replace the decaying system.
  • 17 January 2007: mineworker Anthony Garrigan died at Daw Mill while assisting others to install rockbolts to keep a tunnel support wall in place. He was crushed when 100-plus tonnes of inadequately supported coal and stone collapsed on top of him. The section of tunnel had a history of collapses and UK Coal should have introduced a safer system of support.
  • 3 November 2007: mineworker Paul Milner died at Welbeck colliery. Mr Milner was attempting to install additional roof supports so that equipment could be salvaged from a coal face that had ceased production. He was crushed under approximately 90 tonnes of rock when a roof area collapsed. A suitable code of practice was agreed to provide a safe system of work, but the code was not adequately enforced by UK Coal.

UK Coal was ordered to pay a fine of £112,500 and £187,500 costs for each fatality, totalling £1.2m.

After the hearing, HSE Mines Inspector Bob Leeming commented:

“Fewer than 4,000 people are employed in the UK mining sector, which makes four deaths within 18 months even more stark. These tragic incidents followed a four and a half year period where there were no deaths in the whole UK mining industry.

It is even more shocking that these preventable deaths were the fault of one company – UK Coal. All it would have taken to prevent these deaths was better management and proper hazard control by UK Coal.

HSE brought this case because of the serious breaches that were uncovered during the investigations. We will bring further proceedings if similar situations arise in the future. UK Coal need to demonstrate that they have learned – and will act upon – the lessons from these deaths.”

Comment

The Sentencing Guidelines Council has issued definitive guidelines on sentencing following work related deaths under health and safety law. 

The Guideline applies to the sentencing of organisations on or after 15 February 2010 and states that the appropriate fine for deaths involving health and safety offences “will seldom be less than £100,000 and may be measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds or more.”

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