Miners at Illawarra Coal’s Appin Colliery have again been forced above ground amid methane level concerns, after a ventilation system cut out at the weekend – the second fan failure in three weeks.
A fault in a supply transformer caused the main mine ventilation fans at the colliery’s number six shaft to stop working at 11.53pm on Sunday, according to the NSW Resources Regulator.
The weekend’s incident came just weeks after a dangerously-high level of methane was detected at the mine, forcing it to be temporarily shut down and investigated by authorities.
On October 25, a fan cut out due to a power trip, resulting in the methane level inside a shaft reaching a near-explosive reading, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) said.
The union said the risk was exacerbated by workers not being evacuated immediately at the time.
The incident sparked an investigation by the Resources Regulator, which issued South32 – Illawarra Metallurgical Coal’s owner and mine operator – a prohibition notice the following day.
The prohibition notice, which halted production activities and “required the immediate withdrawal of workers”, was later revised to allow a limited number of staff underground to perform essential duties, before it was lifted on November 4.
South32 was ordered to review its risk control measures and has since put systems in place at the mine to manage risks associated with methane gas and ventilation.
The systems included a new withdrawal trigger action response plan (TARP), which provides real-time monitoring of gas to ensure workers are withdrawn from all parts of the mine in the event of ventilation failures and methane.
During the most-recent fan failure, all employees were moved from underground parts of the mine to the surface “due to the increased risk of rising methane gas levels”, a Resources Regulator spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman said the removal of workers was consistent with the regulator’s previous directions and in accordance with the TARP.
“The mine was able to restore the operation of the fans and did not experience any gas exceedances,” she said.
The Mercury’s coverage of the October incident brought back memories of the 1979 Appin mine disaster for Paul Garrity.
Mr Garrity’s father, Francis, was one of 14 miners killed after an explosion in a remote tunnel of the mine, which was ignited by a rush of methane.
The 53-year-old remembers the incident – which happened about 11pm on July 24, 1979 – like it was last night.
“We don’t want this [a disaster] to happen again,” he told the Mercury.
“It’s just upsetting to keep hearing these stories. We want these gentlemen to come home to their wives and their kids.”