A coronial inquest into the death of a central Queensland miner who suffocated on lethal gas has found operator Anglo American’s record keeping was “grossly deficient” and his death could have been avoided.
- Father-of-two Paul McGuire died after accessing an underground area filled with methane
- Coroner David O’Connell found failures in the mine’s job card system
- Six coal miners and two quarry workers have been killed on Queensland mine sites since 2018
The company was at the centre of another major incident earlier this month, when five workers were injured in an underground explosion at its Grosvenor mine, which is also in the Bowen Basin.
34-year-old electrician Paul McGuire was sent to an underground area of the Grasstree coal mine near Middlemount in May 2014 to calibrate a gas monitor.
But the mine’s electronic job card system sent him to an out-of-date location.
An inquest held in Mackay in February heard that Mr McGuire opened a hatch to the sealed room and suffocated on methane gas in a disused area known as a “goaf”.
The father-of-two died almost instantly.
Job cards are used at the Grasstree Mine to delegate work to employees, but a failure to update the system meant Paul McGuire was sent to a deadly location.(Supplied: Coroners Court of Queensland)
Handing down his findings today, coroner David O’Connell said the failure in the job card system was the leading contributor to Mr McGuire’s death.
“The poor checking or failure of adequate checking of the completed job cards with inaction to update the system, was at the heart of where the process broke down and directly let to Mr McGuire’s death,” Magistrate O’Connell wrote in his findings.
The inquest heard the gas monitor Mr McGuire was sent to calibrate had been removed from that location almost five months before.
Magistrate O’Connell said a number of workers had previously flagged the change in location with superiors, but it was not translated to the job card system.
“I have no hesitation in saying, and I find, that the mine’s record keeping was grossly deficient,” Magistrate O’Connell said.
“Mr McGuire was issued a work order or job card on 6 May, 2014, with patently incorrect information, and information that, if persons were diligent, could have been avoided.”
No signs, no warnings
The inquest heard Mr McGuire could have taken two possible routes to get to the hatch.
If he went through “Route A,” as Magistrate O’Connell called it, he would have passed through “No Road” tape a widely understood warning to not enter.
“Many persons said that Mr McGuire was a diligent employee,” Magistrate O’Connell said.
“Accordingly, I find that he would not pass through two sets of ‘No Road’ tape.”
It was found the most persuasive and reasonable path Mr McGuire took was “Route B,” an area with no signage.
The door to the hatch in this area also had no signage and was secured only by a single nut and bolt as it had not yet undergone a final seal.
“The danger was unable to be seen, heard or felt.”
The only mechanism standing between Paul McGuire and an area filled with lethal gas was a single nut and bolt.(Supplied: Coroners Court of Queensland)
“I am left perplexed as to why such a dangerous location could not have simple warning signs warning of the dangers beyond.”
“Many people would be aware of an electrical machinery cupboard where high voltage lies behind it, and on the door it is clearly stated in signage ‘Danger High Voltage’ and ‘Authorised Persons Only’. Why does the same not apply here?”
The findings acknowledge Anglo American has since made changes including putting a padlock and warnings on hatch seals.
Magistrate O’Connell said mining companies should use padlocks, clear markings, temporary fencing and “No Road” tape on seals leading to goafs.
Charges dropped, no recommendations made
The inquest also examined whether mining incidents should be prosecuted differently.
Anglo American was charged with failing a safety obligation causing death, and charges laid against an employee were eventually dropped.
The company was fined $137,500 for Mr McGuire’s death.
While the coroner was not critical of the Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health’s decision to drop charges, he said the case highlighted the benefits of having a specialist prosecutor make decisions.
Since Mr McGuire’s death in 2014, Queensland Parliament has passed industrial manslaughter laws which seek to hold senior staff members to account for workplace deaths.
As a result, the investigating coroner made no recommendations.
Anglo American’s Grasstree coal mine is near Middlemount, north-west of Rockhampton in central Queensland.(ABC TV News)
He found that the Outbye Electrical Coordinator at the time, who should have updated the job card system, may have committed an offence.
That finding has been referred to the department for further investigation.
Six coal miners and two quarry workers have been killed on Queensland mine sites since 2018.
Anglo American did not respond to today’s findings.