Case study

On 12 October 1980, three miners died in a fire at the CSA Mine in Cobar, Central Western NSW. They were in the mine shaft’s person-riding cage, removing old concrete delivery pipes.

Coroner Schreiner believed that hot metal, slag or sparks falling down the shaft ignited flammable material below the cage, such as old cement bags and ‘hydrocarbons’ on the shaft walls.

The fire sent flames up the shaft walls, fed by hydraulic oil or diesel fuel which had leaked from galvanised pipes in the shaft. The fire was further fuelled by the acetylene the men were carrying.

The Coroner discovered that a fire had occurred a week earlier in the same shaft when a different crew was working on removing the old concrete pipes. In this instance, no workers were injured. The fire was reported to management and an inspection was undertaken by the mine’s management on 7 October to investigate. It seemed to have been caused in the same way.

The manager of the mine reported this fire to headquarters in Broken Hill, categorising it as "minor". The Coroner found that information about this fire was missing from the report shared with the Broken Hill Mine Safety Inspector and an inspection by a Mine Inspector could not be arranged before the fatal incident on 12 October.

The Coroner said the tragedy demonstrates the dangers caused by sending fuel and oil underground by means of pipes in a shaft used for other purposes. The difficulty in detecting leaks is a major one. The Coroner made no formal recommendation, however, suggested the shaft be properly washed down before removal of any further pipes.

This incident highlights the need to undertake suitable risk assessments and proper investigation of incidents (such as the previous fire) to identify causes, review control measures and apply appropriate risk controls as currently required by legislation.

This incident claimed the lives of 3 people: Norman Armstrong (25), Michael Botten (24) and Christopher McInerney (21).