John Harbron, 47, was working underground with colleagues on July 24, 2009 when he was killed by falling pipes.
He had been preparing to unload a pack of 40 steel pipes from a rail-borne car but when he cut plastic bands securing them in place they rolled sideways, fell off the car and landed on top of him, according to a statement from the government’s national health and safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive.
Each pipe was nearly 13 feet long and weighed more than 11 stone, while the whole load weighed nearly 3 tonnes and fell in a relatively confined space where it was difficult to remove the pipes swiftly.
Harbron suffered multiple injuries and died at the scene despite his colleagues’ efforts to release him.
Following an investigation by the HSE, which prosecuted the company, Nottingham Crown Court found UK Coal guilty of breaching two health and safety work acts and fined the company a total of £125,000 and ordered it to pay £175,000 in costs.
The HSE investigation found the pipe packs could not sit evenly on the type of car being used and could become unstable on tilted track.
The floor profile of an underground roadway can change quickly, sometimes within days, meaning the tilt of the track can vary from place to place and from time to time.
The court heard there had been at least four written reports by locomotive drivers of pipe packs becoming unstable while being made ready for manual unloading some 18 months before Harbron was killed.
However, managers failed to read all the reports or act on drivers’ concerns.
"The failure of UK Coal to draw and act upon the experience and concerns of its employees and contractors was a tragic waste with tragic consequences,” HSE inspector Peter McGuinness said but added that UK Coal had since made changes to improve safety at the colliery.
Harbron’s widow Sharon said it should not have taken her husband’s death for the problems at the pit to have come to light.
"John was a hardworking, honest and genuine man who loved his family and was always there for us,” she said.
"We are pleased the company has learned from this so no family ever has to go through the same as us because we are the ones who have paid the price.
"Nothing can bring John back but we can at least say we got justice for him today and we can at last put this behind us."