Case Study

On 9 November 1965, four underground miners lost their lives at Bulli Colliery, located on the South Coast of NSW. The mine was owned by Australian Iron & Steel, a subsidiary of BHP.

The fire was caused by a  pocket of gas which ignited in a panel a few hundred metres from the main shaft.

The investigation report found that there had been intermittent outbreaks of Illawarra Bottom Gas (IBG) detected on the days leading to the fire, as well as on the day of the fire. IBG is a combination of noxious gas (e.g. carbon monoxide) and methane.

In his report, Honour, Judge A. J. Goran Q.C., Court of Coal Mines Regulation indicated that wood had lodged in the braking system of a shuttle, caught fire and ignited the gas. 

Three of the four miners died in shunt where the fire had started, and the fourth miner died slowly of noxious gas poisoning more than an hour after the fire began. One trapped miner escaped by running through the fire, suffering severe burns to his body.

Miners were left underground when the fire started, marshalled in muster areas to allow rescue teams to use the transport system to enter the mine. Judge Goran found they were not at risk and were eventually brought to the surface.

The 200 workers at the mine did not carry self-rescuers.

The rescue and firefighting operation was coordinated through mines rescue, mine staff and mines inspectors. Mines rescue used breathing apparatus that lasted two hours, requiring a rotating process. The search for the missing miners and firefighting continued for over 24-hours, even though suitable firefighting equipment was not available at the mine and had to be transported in.

In the Report of Inquiry, Judge Goran stated that mine management had tolerated concentrations of noxious gas. He also noted that the competence of the deputies to take gas reading was low. He recommended an assessment, under actual conditions, be undertaken by mine inspectors. He also found the mine’s ventilation method to deal with gas to be ineffective and improvised. The provision of foam and other firefighting equipment available was also inadequate.

The Report of Inquiry recommended significant improvements be made to the Coal Mines Regulations Act to ensure appropriate ventilation, stringent and continuous gas monitoring and detection, and the compulsory carrying of self-rescuers.

This incident claimed the lives of 4 people: Robert Stewart, Frederick Hunt, Henry Smith and Jack Murray.