Move to change safety rules attacked

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The Independent Online
THE LABOUR Party is calling on the Government to withdraw planned changes in safety procedures at UK mines. The Government intends to remove the sole responsibility of safety management and inspection from pit deputies, allowing pit managers to decide whether safety roles should be split, writes Mary Fagan. Martin O'Neill, Labour's energy spokesman, said: 'These changes will replace strict and detailed statutes with vague voluntary codes of practice. It will create conflicts between productivity and safety.'

Pressure on British Coal to increase productivity through new mining techniques and working practices has been thrown into the spotlight in the run-up to the Government's sale of the company, which is planned for next year. Ministers and the company have consistently denied that safety will be compromised by privatisation. But the tragedy at Bilsthorpe colliery will increase controversy over the use of new techniques such as roof bolting.

British Coal introduced the technique in the mid-1980s after examining its use in Australia and the United States. It is estimated to save at least 50 per cent of development costs in a pit. Dr John Harrison, of the School of Mines at Imperial College, London, said yesterday: 'My view is that we should be quite happy with it.' He said roof bolts were used in mining and civil engineering industries world-wide and in projects such as the Channel tunnel.

The roof bolts - 2.4m steel rods fixed with resin - are driven into the rock strata above the tunnel which gives access to the coal seam, producing a 'rock beam'.

Dr Harrison said: 'This method gives the roof the strength it needs to support itself. It is far superior to using steel arches because you are actually reinforcing the rock.'