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Issue #1740      July 20, 2016

Moura No. 4 anniversary

Explosion that killed 12 mineworkers

The mining community of Moura went into shock on July 16, 1986 when an underground blast took the lives of 12 underground mineworkers at the No. 4 Mine.

The tragedy brought home the devastating reality of the hostile environment that mineworkers work in daily. It showed with brutal effect why coalmining is a unique industry and why the people who work it deserve recognition and support for the dangerous occupation they are in.

Nineteen men were working underground when disaster struck; 12 were killed instantly and 7 were able to help each other to the surface through clouds of dust and gas. District Check Inspectors and rescue teams were quickly on the scene, but it was apparent from the intensity of the blast and the accounts of the survivors that the operation would be one of recovery rather than rescue.

The recovery effort was initially delayed by almost zero visibility and high gas levels but the rescue workers eventually ensured that the bodies of all 12 victims were brought to the surface.

The evidence which was presented to the inquiry which followed was disturbing; the section of the mine where disaster struck had been closed for two years before the day of the explosion because of high levels of methane gas. Poor roof stability and crumbling coal pillars made it a “difficult operation”.

Further evidence revealed that an oil burning safety lamp, found underground after the blast, was a probable source of the ignition of the explosive gases.

The CFMEU Mining Division’s submission to the Moura Inquiry presented expert evidence. When the final report of the Inquiry was made public, most of the union’s suggestions had been adopted as formal recommendations.

It was the union, not the employers, that had offered a constructive response to the disaster.

Legislation and Regulations were ultimately changed to provide for:

  • Ban of flame safety lamps from underground mines
  • Ban of aluminium alloys from use underground
  • Continuous gas monitoring from all sections of the mine
  • Safety induction training to be compulsory for all mineworkers
  • Secondary extraction plans to be developed and approved by the Mines Inspectorate.

The union’s persistence and insistence has ensured that it has a voice on legislative and policy committees, and continuing involvement in advanced safety training and awareness.

The union’s journal Common Cause editorialised at the time:

“Miners and the coal industry need all the protection we can get and this means strengthening controls, not lessening them. ... In the end, it is miners and their families who pay the highest price for coal; we are often required to pay with our lives, and that should never be forgotten.”

Next article – CUB workers locked out

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