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1979 Appin Colliery Explosion

Case Study

On 24 July 1979, an explosion occurred at Appin Coal Mine on the NSW South Coast, killing 14 mine workers. At the time of the explosion there were 45 workers underground.

The explosion occurred three kilometres from the pithead and 600 metres underground. Three mine workers were killed by the explosion and another 11 mine workers died from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Of the 31 workers who made it to the surface, many suffered severe burns.

His Honour, Judge A. J. Goran Q.C., Court of Coal Mines Regulation concluded in his report that a methane explosion started the coal dust explosion, following an accumulation of methane resulting from a flawed ventilation change. He concluded that the explosion began by an ignition in the fan starter-box and not the deputy’s safety lamp, as initially speculated.

“I do not suspect that the deputy's lamp contributed in any way to the explosion. Indeed, having studied in detail the investigation of safety lamps, their defects and their inability, despite those defects, in most cases to propagate flame externally, I believe that reports of overseas explosion in mines where safety lamps have been indicted as the cause, should be treated with great reservation now.”

“Methane gas in the fan starter-box ignited and propagated to the outside via methane gas nearby, most probably in the vicinity of the exhaust. The flame was conveyed by the vent-tubing to the concentration of methane gas at the closed end of 'B' stub, causing rapid deflagration and explosion,” wrote Judge Goran in his report.

The report called for electronic monitoring of gasses such as methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide including portable devices for deputies.  It also reinforced the need to have effective ventilation changeover practices which include the need to cut the power to equipment during ventilation changeover and the necessity for an interlocking circuit to cut power to equipment if the auxiliary fan stops.  The report also recommended that ventilation officers be appointed.

The issues identified in this report are addressed by our current legislative framework.

This incident claimed the lives of 14 people: Alwyn Brewin (37), Francis Garrity (37), Ian Giffard (36), Geoffrey Johnson (35), Jurgen Lauterbach (30), Alexander Lawson (35), James Oldcorn (58), Peter Peck (36), Robert Rawcliffe (45), Roy Rawlings (31), Karl Staats (48), John Stonham (41), Roy Williams (27), Gary Woods (30).