Collapse of tunnel casts doubt over pit safety: Standards may have been breached in drive for productivity

ACCIDENT investigators will today scrutinise the technique used to secure the tunnel that collapsed at Bilsthorpe Colliery, trapping six men.

Roof bolting, in which holes are drilled into the rock above the coal seam and bolts, like giant Rawlplugs, are driven in and 'glued' into place, is relatively new in Britain. It is considered cheap and flexible and has become widely used in deep mining.

Although some have condemned the technique as more risky than traditional hydraulic support systems, it has been authorised by the Mines Inspectorate and Bilsthorpe men had considerable experience using the method.

Last night, Gerard McCloskey, editor of International Coal Report, said roof bolting was widely regarded as 'the way forward' in deep mining.

There were also suspicions that safety standards might have been breached in an effort to improve productivity at the threatened pit. Bilsthorpe is one of 11 pits under threat of closure because British Coal cannot find a market for their output. Twelve pits were 'reprieved' following the Government's recent review of the coal industry but their future depends on the generators, National Power and PowerGen, agreeing to buy extra coal. One of the 12 has already ceased production.

There are no extra sales in prospect and the 11 remaining reprieved mines are churning out up to a million tons of unwanted coal a month - adding to British Coal's existing stockpile of about 14 million tons.

The accident comes at a time when the number of deaths in Britain's mines has fallen to a record low, with only three men killed last year.

For the second year running there were no deaths at the coalface. However, British Coal figures show, there were 326 major accident casualties and 1,711 'other' casualties - where miners were off work for more than three days. The overall accident rate stood at 17.52 per 100,000 manshifts, down 17 per cent on 1991.

Last year's figures confirm the historic trend of a reduction in death and injury towards a lower risk of death or injury as new safety procedures have been introduced. In 1950, 476 miners died in coalface, underground roadway or pit-head accidents, a rate of 0.28 per 100,000 manshifts.

Ten years later the figure had fallen to 316, 0.22 per 100,000 shifts. By 1975 fatalities stood at 59, a rate of 0.11, and in 1984, at the start of the miners' strike, the total was 27, a rate of 0.06.

Despite the accident rate, coal mining compares favour ably with the construction industry, farming, and oil and gas exploration. From 1986 to 1990, 70 coal workers died compared with 403 in the building trade and 187 in the oil business.

The question that will still be asked, however, is whether British Coal's safety record can be maintained as the Government prepares the company for privatisation - a goal ministers would like to achieve within the lifetime of the next Parliament.

National Power and PowerGen have about 35 million tonnes of stockpiled coal and want to run those stocks down rather than buy more. What little extra they might take will be put out to competitive tender and will not necessarily come from British Coal.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there