Mining tragedy leads to calls for major safety review


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The latest death to shock the British coal mining industry led to calls for a national review of safety yesterday, amid warnings the accident could have been worse.

Gerry Gibson, 49, died inside the Kellingley mine in North Yorkshire on Tuesday night after a section of the roof gave way at the coal face, 800m underground and three miles from the mine's entrance shaft.

The mine's owner, UK Coal, said no obvious cause had come to light during preliminary investigations and that the firm was "at a loss" to know why it occurred. A full investigation by the Health and Safety Executive and North Yorkshire Police is underway.

Chris Kitchen, General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, told The Independent it appeared to be a "tragic accident", but added: "It's not acceptable that men don't go home at the end of their shift to their families."

Mr Gibson was the fifth British mining fatality this month, after four workers drowned at the Gleision Colliery in Wales on on 15 September, and the third to befall the Kellingley mine in three years. Another rock fall there in 2008 led to the death of Don Cook, who suffered a haemorrhage after part of the roof collapsed on his leg, and yesterday the wife of Ian Cameron, who was crushed by machinery in 2009, called for the mine to be closed.

"I was told that when all this health and safety business was going to get sorted, it would hopefully prevent this happening again and it hasn't," she told the BBC. "It should be shut down. How many other men are going to get killed down there?" Mr Kitchen maintained that his union did not have specific worries about the North Yorkshire mine but warned it was fortunate that two more miners had not been killed, adding: "The whole workforce is gutted, they're a big family and they've worked together for years. To lose anybody rips the heart out of morale."

He also raised fears of safety legislation being weakened: "We need to make sure that when the Government tries to reduce red tape, they don't weaken any safety regulation. I do feel that when people start talking about cutting bureaucracy, that's what they mean."

David Brewer, director-general of the Confederation of UK Coal Producers, said the rash of deaths was unacceptable. "Mines are naturally dangerous places but that is not to say that there should be accidents. Nobody should be saying 'accidents will happen'. We should be saying that accidents should not happen – not just fatalities, accidents."

Pat Carragher, general secretary of the British Association of Colliery Management, admitted the spate of deaths could make some miners consider giving up their jobs, but that mining had "always been a hazardous industry and will remain so".