‘Still get chills’: Miners reflect a year on from Grosvenor
A year ago today, every underground miner and their families' worst nightmare became a reality when an explosion at a Central Queensland mine rocked the industry to its core.
Twelve months on, shockwaves from the May 6 2020 Grosvenor mine disaster are still being felt as miners pause and reflect on the injured workers and their families, whose lives will never be the same again.
Five miners suffered horrific burns injuries during the underground explosion at the Anglo American-owned mine near Moranbah.
CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland president Stephen Smyth said he "still gets chills" when he thinks back to the first time he heard about the disaster.
"An underground explosion is every underground miner's worst nightmare," Mr Smyth said.
"One year on, our thoughts are very much with the miners injured in the blast at the longwall.
"As (injured worker) Wayne Sellars put it - 'It was like standing in a blowtorch'.
"These workers and their families have a long road to recovery ahead."
He paid tribute to the Grosvenor workforce, who he said had completed the re-entry to the mine and were in the process of addressing hazards and preparing the mine to restart production.
"They have been through a tough year and the crews have done a tremendous job on the re-entry," Mr Smyth said.
"There is still much to do to uncover the lessons of May 6 2020, to hold Anglo to account and to implement changes across industry.
"But (Thursday's) anniversary is about acknowledging the workers at Grosvenor - their courage, perseverance and the risks they face doing the important work they do.
"They have the full support of their union."
Burdekin MP Dale Last said his thoughts were with the injured men, some of which were still undergoing extensive treatment in their long road to recovery.
"The community want to be reassured that the processes and safety protocols are in place to ensure we never have a repeat of that incident," Mr Last said.
"I would hope the learnings from the investigation and the recommendations which fall out of the (Queensland Coal Mining Board's) inquiry are adopted."
In a statement, an Anglo American spokeswoman said it was "unacceptable that our colleagues were injured at Grosvenor mine".
"Since May 2020, we have looked at every aspect of the management of risk in our underground mines, and commenced a range of work to accelerate technology solutions, particularly automation and remote operation," she said.
"We continue to proactively respond to information as it becomes available from the Board of Inquiry and other investigations, and have a significant body of work under way across our underground mines, including putting measures in place to ensure the future safe operation of Grosvenor mine."
What has happened since the disaster?
Anglo American started a staged re-entry of the mine last month, following works to seal the longwall panel where the explosion occurred.
It came after hundreds of workers at the mine signed a petition calling for Grosvenor's senior leadership team to be sacked, saying safety culture had not been addressed since the explosion.
The petition was sent to Anglo American's metallurgical coal business chief executive Tyler Mitchelson from CFMEU mining and energy Queensland president Stephen Smyth on behalf of more than 200 workers.
Mr Mitchelson sent a response to the petition to Mr Smyth.
An Anglo American spokeswoman said Mr Smyth had an open door with management to make suggestions to improve safety.
On April 7, injured worker Wayne Sellars was the first to publicly speak about the disaster that left five men with serious burns injuries.
In a statement to the Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry, set up after the events of May 6 2020, Mr Sellars recalled being engulfed in a blue flame for a "split second".
The Airlie Beach resident said he experienced two pressure waves within 10 to 15 seconds of each other before the blast.
"As the second pressure wave occurred, I heard a clap like a rock being dropped from a height onto another rock," he said in his submission.
"Almost instantly, I saw blue flame, which engulfed me for what must have been a split second but felt, at the time, like an eternity."
How the disaster has changed mine safety
Since May 2020, Anglo American said it had started a range of work to fast-track technology solutions, particularly around automation and remote operation.
The miner said it would continue to find new ways of addressing safety risks, drawing on international best practice and technology development to ensure its systems and processes extended beyond current industry best-practice.
The company said it was investing in several areas, including fast-tracking remote operation and automation to remove people from higher risk areas, enhancing controls, investment in new data and strata capabilities and gas management.
The miner has launched a pressure sensor pilot to remove power from the longwall face when an overpressure event occurs.
Anglo's Met Coal Analytics Centre is now fully operational, with a team of data scientists, technologists and mining specialists in place at its Brisbane office to look at major challenges and opportunities for the future of its mines.
The company has set up a Grosvenor incident management team to manage the specific conditions at the mine.
The May 6 disaster was also the catalyst for the Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry, which explored high potential incidents of methane exceedances that occurred at Grosvenor mine between July 1, 2019 and May 5, 2020 as well as the May 6 blast.
Burdekin MP Dale Last said the incident also highlighted the importance of safety across the entire mining industry.
Since the hearings launched on March 9, the board heard evidence from 15 witnesses including mining inspectors from Resources Safety and Health Queensland, industry experts and injured coal mine worker Wayne Sellars.
Last month, an inquiry spokeswoman said the board was currently finalising its investigation and writing part two of its report.
She said this document would be provided to Mines Minister Scott Stewart on May 31, but it would be up to Mr Stewart on whether it was released to the public.