UK Coal has been ordered to pay £1.2 million in fines and costs for safety failings that cost the lives of four mineworkers – including three at the West Midlands’ last remaining pit.
The company, of Harworth, Nottinghamshire, was sentenced at Sheffield Crown Court for four breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
UK Coal pleaded guilty to all seven breaches at an earlier hearing in proceedings brought by the Health and Safety Executive. Three of the four fatalities were at Daw Mill Colliery, near Tamworth, the region’s last deep mine.
In June 2006, supervisor Trevor Steeples, from West Bridgford, Notts, died at Daw Mill when he was asphyxiated due to oxygen deprivation after being exposed to high levels of methane.
In August 2006, mineworker Paul Hunt, from Swadlincote, Derbyshire, 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.
In January 2007, mineworker Anthony Garrigan, from Thorne, near Doncaster, 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.
In November 2007, mineworker Paul Milner, from Church Warsop, Notts, died at Welbeck colliery, Meden Vale, Nottinghamshire. 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 £1.2 million.
After the hearing, HSE mines inspector Bob Leeming said: “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.”