1996 Gretley Colliery Inrush
On 14 November 1996, four workers at the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company’s Gretley Colliery were killed due to an inrush of water.
The four workers were in the process of developing a roadway (known as C heading) in an area of the mine called 50/51 panel, operating a continuous mining machine. An additional four crew members were in a crib room a short distance away.
Suddenly and with tremendous force, water rushed into the C heading from a hole in the face made by the continuous miner. The machine, weighing between 35 and 50 tonnes, was swept approximately 17.5 metres down the C heading, where it jammed against the sides.
The four men working on the C heading were engulfed by the water, swept away and drowned. The crib room experienced flooding, with those four men surviving the incident.
Justice Staunton prepared a formal investigation report under Section 98 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1982.
The investigation identified that the water came from the long-abandoned mine at the Young Wallsend Colliery, which was full of water. The water extended to the surface through the mine shafts, significantly increasing the water pressure.
Justice Stauton accepted that many individuals within the mining industry assumed that the 50 metre Borehole Rule in clause 9 of the Coal Mines Regulation (Methods and Systems of Working – Underground Mines Regulation 1984) offered adequate protection against inaccurate plans.
The investigation revealed that there were significant errors in the Gretley plan, measuring inaccuracies between 100 and 200 metres. The inquiry found the Department of Mineral Resources, the mine operator and the mine surveyor all failed to confirm the accuracy of the plan and identify the errors in the old workings. There were also failings by mine deputies and the mine under-manager to properly investigate the source of water entering the mine during the weeks prior to the inrush.
The current legislative framework requires certain actions by mine operators to identify and control inrush hazards. These requirements are set out in the Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Regulation 2014 clause 45. The mine operator must also prepare and implement a principal mining hazard management plan if it identifies an inrush or an inundation principal mining hazard is present (clause 24).
This incident claimed the lives of 4 people: Damon Murray (19), Edward Samuel Batterham (48), John Michael Hunter (36) and Mark Kenneth Kaiser (30).
Working Paper 39: The Gretley Coal Mine Disaster: Reflections on the Finding that Mine Managers were to blame. Andrew Hopkins, Professor of Sociology, National Research Centre for OHS Regulation, Australian National University, November 2005