SAFETY chiefs are adamant job losses at the Boulby Potash mine played no part in the death of a worker on Friday.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Mines is working alongside the owner's of the mine in East Cleveland to investigate the circumstances surrounding the 'gas blow out' that led to the death of 56-year-old John Anderson in the early hours of the morning.

Bosses revealed yesterday that additional safety measures had been put in place due to the risk of such events.
Mr Anderson, who lived in nearby Easington, had worked on the site for around 35 years.

Tom Blenkinsop, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, questioned whether job cuts had been a contributory factor in the fatality.

He said: “My immediate thoughts - and I have no doubt the thoughts of the entire local community - are with his family and friends.

"We cannot allow this death to go unmarked. Over the last decade-and-a-half the mine has been a safe working environment, certainly compared to years past where accidents were more frequent.

“However, in the space of just a few months we have seen two tragic incidents. I am concerned that this must not become a pattern. Mines legislation requires a full investigation and I need to be reassured that this will indeed happen.

“I would also want to be reassured that recent redundancies at the mine have not altered day-to-day working practices to the extent that risk may have been allowed to creep back in.

"In the near future I will want to meet with both the mine owners, ICL Ltd, and the mine unions on these issues."

Gazette & Herald: Tom Blenkinsop

Tom Blenkinsop MP, seeking reassurances

Countering the MP's concerns, safety manager Simon Hunter said an immediate risk assessment was carried out before the jobs were lost.

"What we were keen to ensure was there was no change to the density of supervision. There has been no change in the mining competence underground," he said.

Since the job losses happened on March 1, checks have been carried out to find out their impact on safety, he said.
"It has been what we thought it would be - no change," he said.

At the time of the gas release, additional safety precautions were in place as the potential for blow-outs had been recognised more than a week ago.

They included workers remotely operating the 4m-wide and 13.5m-long mining machinery, so they were standing away from the mineral as it was being cut.

There were more than 100 miners underground at the time, with eight men in Mr Anderson's section. No-one else was injured and all were safely evacuated.

Blow-outs were not regular occurrences but not uncommon either, Mr Hunter said. They were a part of the mining process when naturally-formed gas escaped.

He said: "The investigations into the incident have already begun but they are at a very early stage. We will be co-operating fully with the Mines Inspectorate in order that we can discover exactly what happened.

“What we do know at this stage there was what we describe as a ‘gas blow’.

A gas blow is a sudden release of a small amount of gas at exceedingly high pressure which also displaces mineral. These events are not uncommon and we have procedures in place to ensure safe working, there is no suggestion to say that these procedures were not being followed.

"At this early stage of the investigation it would appear that this particular event was unprecedented.

“Mining has its risks, however safety is always our first priority. We have begun an investigation and it is important that this is allowed to run its course.”

Union bosses say it would be inappropriate to comment until the investigation is concluded.

Unite regional officer Tim Bush said: “We offer our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the member who died in this tragic incident. Our thoughts are with them, as well as his colleagues and the wider community at this difficult time.

“The circumstances of the accident are now being investigated by the Mines Inspectorate. It is not appropriate to speculate until a full investigation has been carried out."

Last year, the company announced job losses in a "significant restructuring" of its operations, including moving from producing potash to Polysulphate fertiliser.

Gazette & Herald: BOULBY: Underground at Boulby Potash Mine where Paul Tonge was found dead

A picture of underground at Boulby Potash

Graeme Hetherington looks at previous incidents at the mine

THE death of John Anderson at the Boulby potash mine comes just weeks after a serious fire broke out in a different section of the facility, leading to seven workers being hospitalised for smoke inhalation.

Tom Blenkinsop, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, has now called on the company to carry out a thorough investigation into whether job losses at the site had affected safety measures in the mine.

The company's safety manager, Simon Hunter, says it is fully co-operating with the Mines Inspectorate's investigation and reassured staff and the MP that safety was the highest priority on the site.

In May, management at ICL UK Boulby mine, in east Cleveland, were issued with an "improvement notice" by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as it continued an investigation into the fire.

It started just after midnight on April 13, five miles out to sea and 1,100 metres under the sea bed. It was believed to have been caused by polystyrene blocks catching fire.

The improvement notice is believed to be in relation to a risk assessment being carried out on the polystyrene.

In January 2014, a Mining Inspectorate and the Health and Safety Executive investigation was launched following a collapse deep in the mine when a boulder dropped from the roof about one kilometre underground. No one was injured.

In January 2012, a man in his 50s was airlifted to hospital after suffering chest injuries in an underground incident.

And eight months later, a 41-year-old mine worker was badly hurt when he was hit by falling debris.

Darren Compton, of Brotton, died in 2007 while he was operating machinery in the mine and was crushed in a rockfall.

In 2001, an electrician was taken to hospital with severe burns after carrying out routine maintenance work on the mine surface, and in 2003, a lorry driver was airlifted to hospital after being trapped under an overturned vehicle for about an hour.

In a non-accident related incident, staff were sent home from work following the sudden death of a 53-year-old man in the mine in February this year. The death was not treated as suspicious by Cleveland Police.