Letter: Who will inspect the inspectors?

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Sir: You report the Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines as saying that the system of roof bolts at the site of the disaster at Bilsthorpe 'was installed to a good standard' (29 September).

But the question is whether they should have been installed at all. The new tunnel was being driven alongside old workings. The report says this is 'normal'. But is it 'normal' to allow tunnels driven in such circumstances to dispense with roof arches and rely only on roof bolts? If so, since the report admits that proximity to old workings was a probable cause of the fall, should not the whole question of roof bolting in these conditions be re-examined?

Some weeks ago, I asked the director-general of the Health and Safety Executive if I could see the code of practice on roof bolting he had been requested to prepare by the House of Commons Select Committee. He has now sent me this report. But it gives no answer. Instead, it appends a purely technical code of practice prepared by British Coal, specifying how roof bolts should be installed.

But the question is not how we should install roof bolts, but whether they should be installed. We need to know what rules are followed by inspectors of mines when they decide on the fitness of this system compared with conventional systems, which may be safer in particular circumstances.

Since this report does not quote any guidance rules for the inspectorate, other than those prepared by British Coal, we have to ask: who will inspect the inspectorate?

The inspectorate has written chapter 1 of the necessary inquiry. A fully independent inquiry is needed to prepare chapter 2, which will tell us, in detail, how the inspectorate works, and prepare recommendations about how its work might be improved upon.

Yours sincerely,


MEP for Nottingham (Lab)