MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s Queensland on Monday ordered an independent enquiry into an explosion at a coal mine run by Anglo American in the state that last week critically injured five workers.
The accident took place 15 months after another Anglo American worker was killed at a nearby mining complex and comes just months after a review called for tighter regulation of the sector that has seen at least 48 deaths since 2000.
The probe will be led by a retired judge or Queens Counsel who will be able to conduct hearings, call witnesses and make broad inquiries relating to the blast, state mines minister Anthony Lynham said.
“An underground gas explosion in a coal mine is simply unacceptable in the 21st century,” Lynham said in a statement.
“This latest board of inquiry is an opportunity to continue this government’s sweeping reforms to protect mine workers.”
Miners remained in critical condition after suffering burns to their upper bodies and airways following the blast, local media reported.
The state is also considering the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws which could make resources executives culpable for workplace fatalities, legislation which is expected to be voted on before a State election in October 2020.
If the Bill passes in its current form, it will create significant potential liability for employers and senior officers in the Queensland resources industry, law firm McCullough Robertson said.
The maximum penalty for an individual would be 20 years imprisonment and for a company, a fine of over $13 million.
It is advising businesses to “review existing work health and safety processes and procedures to ensure compliance.”
Last year’s fatality was one of four across the Anglo American’s operations, after two people died at its South American copper operations, and another at its South American thermal coal business, according to its 2019 annual report.
Anglo American said it would cooperate fully in all investigations.
“We want answers as to why an ignition of methane occurred at Grosvenor mine and we understand that everyone else does too,” CEO of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson said.
The miner has already started its own review into the incident with industry experts, including in the areas of methane and ventilation management and forensic fire analysis.
“We will not recommence mining at Grosvenor until we know what happened and how we can prevent it happening again,” he said in a statement.
Members of the probe’s board and terms of reference are to be determined by the end of the month.
Grosvenor produced 4.7 million tonnes of metallurgical or steel-making coal in 2019.
Reporting by Melanie Burton, editing by Louise Heavens