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UK Coal sentenced over Kellingley mineworker's death

UK Coal and global machinery supplier Joy Mining Ltd. were ordered to pay a total of £568,000 in fines and costs for serious breaches of safety that led to the death of West Yorkshire pit worker Ian Cameron.

On 18 July, UK Coal Ltd., of Harworth, Nottinghamshire, and Joy Mining Machinery Ltd., of Worcester, were sentenced at Leeds Crown Court after both had pleaded guilty at earlier hearings to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. 

UK Coal had admitted failing to take steps to ensure the safety of workers using powered roof supports. Joy Mining admitted failing to send out its bulletin warning of a dangerous defect in their powered roof supports.

The prosecutions were brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following a painstaking investigation by its Mining Inspectorate into Mr. Cameron’s death at Kellingley colliery on 18 October 2009.

Leeds Crown Court was told that Mr. Cameron, 46, died as a result of his injuries when a powered roof support (PRS) lowered spontaneously, crushing him against large amounts of debris that had accumulated within the walkway of the support. The PRS was one of several hundred supplied to UK Coal by Joy Mining, each weighing some 15 tonnes and designed to support 510 tonnes.

Mr. Cameron, a face worker at Kellingley with 30 years’ experience, died in hospital shortly after the incident.

Leeds Crown Court heard that a solenoid valve within the powered roof support had become worn and defective. The result was that hydraulic fluid was able to pass under pressure through a valve and cause the PRS canopy to descend without the control button being operated.

A similar solenoid malfunction on a PRS made by Joy had happened in Australia the previous year, 2008. The company issued a warning bulletin but failed to circulate it within the UK or provide it to UK Coal; nor did Joy notify them of the incident until after Mr. Cameron’s death.

HSE’s Mining Inspectorate found that PRS’s installed where Mr. Cameron worked had been salvaged from another coal face at the mine and assessed by UK Coal as fit for transfer with limited maintenance.  The solenoids on the PRS’s were not rigorously tested.

From the outset of production in April 2009 the PRS’s had numerous faults that were recorded but not corrected.  They included burst hoses, faulty solenoids and broken or defective parts. UK Coal was aware of the problems but regarded them as production issues rather than a significant risk to the safety of workers.  

On 18 October 2009, Mr. Cameron was operating a PRS and a colleague was working separately nearby. More than two feet of broken stone debris had built up in the walking track and leaving just under 30 inches’ clearance between the top of the debris and the underside of the PRS canopy at full height.

Only a few hours into the shift, the hydraulic feed system had tripped out nine times, at least seven caused by a burst hose. Mid-morning the colleague noticed Mr. Cameron could not be seen but saw that a PRS had lowered. He disabled the machine and called a supervisor for help. Together they raised the PRS and found Mr. Cameron face down under the canopy in a crawling position on top of the debris. Other miners swiftly came to help and he was taken to hospital but died soon after arrival. 

UK Coal Mining Ltd., of Harworth Park, Blyth Road, Harworth, Notts, was fined £200,000 for a breach of Section 2(1) of the Heath and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 with £218,000 in costs. Joy Mining Machinery Ltd. of Bromyard Road, Worcester, was fined £50,000 for its offence under Section 6(1)(d) of the legislation, with £100,000 in costs.


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