Rib fail fatality highlights need for emergency preparedness

NEW South Wales Mines Rescue had advised, when contacted by the NSW Department of Trade and Investment as part of its investigation, that a specific industry-based training package to deal with crush-injury management could be initiated following the death of Peter Thomas Jones in a rib failure at LakeCoal’s Chain Valley colliery.
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Lou Caruana

The Department’s mine safety investigation unit found no specific training course was available for management of crush injuries.

Jones was an experienced mine technician and was also the site check inspector representing the workers in matters relating to safety.

He was operating a continuous miner in the West 6 pillar extraction panel in the Fassifern seam in June, 2011.

At 1.55pm, a 4.8m slab of coal fell from the rib onto Jones. The slab fractured in two when it hit the ground and Jones was trapped under a 2.3m piece that weighed 1.3 tonnes.

The crew freed Jones within eight minutes. Jones was taken to pit bottom, but was having difficulty breathing.

Jones was transferred to adrift dolly car for transport to the surface and was given CPR by his co-workers.

At 2pm, the ambulance service responded to a phone call from Chain Valley colliery.

At 2.08pm, police were notified. At 2.11pm, the first ambulance arrived at surface pit top.

The first paramedic had contact with Jones at 2.44pm, when the drift dolly car reached the surface of the mine.

Ambulance records indicate Jones’s condition was Code 2 (in arrest) with CPR in progress.

Jones was taken to Wyong Base Hospital, but was declared dead at 3.11pm.

The autopsy identified the cause of death of Jones to be multiple injuries. The pathology summary noted Jones to have sustained soft tissue injuries to the trunk and legs.

Internally, Jones had severe pelvic and chest injuries, including rib fractures and traumatic haemopericardium – a collection of blood in the pericardial sac surrounding the heart – resulting from a lacerated pulmonary vein.

The department engaged geotechnical consultants SCT Operations Pty Ltd to assist with the investigation.

The SCT report describes the rib failure at the mine: “It was observed that the slab which fell on Mr Jones did not contain any rib bolts as were observed inbye and outbye of the fallen section of rib. The fallen slab was wedge shaped and had very weak natural support as it was bounded by several planes of separation. A very thin column of coal at the base of the slab was the only material supporting the weight of the slab in place. The final impetus to this slab toppling over by gravity was considered to be induced vibrations from the movements of the machine operated by Mr Jones.”

The Safe Standing Area Plan for single-sided lifting utilising two breaker line supports indicated that Jones was within a safe standing area, provided the rib side was supported by the mine’s rules, as required, at the time of the accident.

Ultimately, the cause of the tragedy was that the slab of rib coal was not adequately supported (bolted) as required by the documented Pillar Extraction Management Plan or Authority to Mine.

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