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Issue #1745      August 24, 2016

Box Flat, Queensland, 1972

17 killed in massive explosion

On July 31, 1972 a tremendous explosion shattered the Box Flat coal mine near Ipswich in Queensland. Seventeen men were killed and three others injured. One of the injured died two years later from the extensive injuries sustained that day.

The men who were killed included seven members of a rescue squad who had been called to the mine when fire had been detected the day before.

With the danger of further explosions from the raging fire and the build up of methane the grim but inescapable decision to seal the mine was made. The bodies of three men who had been at the top of the mine and were killed by the force of the explosion were recovered, but 14 remained underground.

The Miners’ Federation believed that the greater quantities of dust in mines from the use of new machinery was responsible for the explosion. A special meeting of the Queensland Board of Management said that the disaster “emphasises the need for vigilance, improvement in preventive measures and upgrading of regulations in keeping with technological advance.” They added that history has unfortunately proved that it takes tragedies of this sort to convince the authorities that safety regulations require continuous review and enforcement.

The subsequent inquiry recommended a complete review of the Act in regard to treatment of coal dust, the establishment of a Safety in Mines organisation and the production of a manual to set out the principles of dealing with mine fires among other measures. The board of inquiry’s recommendations failed to move the Queensland Bjelke Petersen government to action. They remained unimplemented until three years later, when disaster struck again, at Kianga.

In a statement, the Federation said:

“The coal mining industry has been subject to very revolutionary technological changes, and regulations have followed behind these changes. The task is to ensure that there are no long gaps between these technological changes and the necessary legislation to safeguard the men.”

These words still hold true, as we fight the renewed battle for regulation of dust in mines subsequent to the re-emergence of black lung disease.

CFMEU Mining Division

Next article – Self-regulation a disaster – More Black Lung victims revealed

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