Accident left miner an invalid


An English coalminer was lured to the West Coast four years ago with the promise of better wages and working conditions at Solid Energy’s Spring Creek Mine but he is instead incapacitated and incapable of physical work after being struck by a falling rock, the Greymouth District Court heard yesterday.
State-owned Solid Energy was fined $71,000 for the safety failure at the now closed mine, and was ordered to pay the miner, Paul Burton, $46,000 reparation for emotional and physical harm.
About 2am on July 25 last year a large chunk of stone, the weight of a small car, dropped from the roof of the underground mine, striking Mr Burton on the neck and shoulders. He sustained significant nerve damage, losing 20% of movement in his arm and is now permanently disabled.
Judge Jane Farish said the injuries were “substantial, serious and permanent”.
“He is frustrated that he can no longer support his family and that his wife has had to go back to work,” Judge Farish said.
“He feels that he now resembles an old man, frail and insecure, and is no longer the man that he was, damage to his spinal cord affecting his stability when walking.”
Court documents show that Solid Energy had safety protocols in place that could have prevented the accident occurring, but staff did not follow them.
Regulations required the installation of 8m megabolts at set levels in the roof to stabilise it. The bolts were to be tensioned and grouted after every fourth bolt or 24 hours, whichever is sooner. If this is not done they do not provide the required support.
On July 24, the day shift installed four roof bolts which were not tensioned and grouted, and the evening shift installed another. When Mr Burton’s shift started at 9pm the mine deputy was told that the bolts had not been grouted, but he decided it could be done the following day.
Five hours later Mr Burton was packing away some equipment when a large block of coal and stone detached from the interface of coal seam and the roof, knocking him to the ground.
Solid Energy lawyer Stephanie Grieve said the company, in response to the accident, had instigated a daily manager’s report detailing all the work done, and left undone, by each shift, and had begun using a stronger mesh curtain on the roofs as an extra precaution.
Judge Farish, in a veiled reference to the Pike River Coal Company, said Solid Energy’s remorse was “over and above what we have seen recently” and even included the former chief executive Don Elder visiting Mr Burton in hospital.
“It was true contrition,” she said.