BOSSES at UK Coal say they remain baffled by last week’s tragedy at Kellingley Colliery in which miner Gerry Gibson died following a roof collapse.
Andrew Mackintosh, director of communications at the coal mining company, spoke exclusively to the Express in the aftermath of the accident as questions of pit safety were raised.
Mr Mackintosh spoke candidly about the third death at the pit in as many years, Kellingley’s safety record and the ongoing investigation into the cause of the accident.
He said: “The difficulties of these incidents has meant safety in coal mining has been very much in the news.
“Three deaths is unacceptable. It’s hit us all hard because of the efforts that have gone into health and safety at the pit.
“More than £35m has been spent where the accident happened. It’s brand new equipment, the coal seam is one of the best Kellingley has ever had in its entire history, which is why the investigation is crucial, to find where things have gone wrong.
“There’s no obvious sense as to what caused the accident. We are at a loss, the circumstances looked as though the working conditions were very favourable.”
Mr Mackintosh said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) finished its on-site investigation last week and confirmed it would be around six months before UK Coal received the HSE report.
Carole Cameron, the wife of Ian Cameron – who was killed at the mine in 2009 – has called for the pit’s closure, but Mr Mackintosh said pit safety remained a top priority for the company and its production was important not just to the local economy but the entire nation.
He said: “The coal industry is still a very important part of the energy mix nationally. Just as importantly there are hundreds of highly skilled and well paid jobs dependant on the future of the mine locally.
“However, I fully appreciate the comments from Mrs Cameron in what I know has been a very difficult week for her.
He added: “I can reassure families and friends and colleagues working at Kellingley that we work to ensure we have the highest health and safety standards.
“In 1998, there were 37 serious accidents over 100,000 shifts. In 2010, that had dropped to 15. We have more than halved it, which is why this is such a bitter blow to everyone.
“We will carry out a thorough review of every aspect to ensure we can avoid the tragedies we have witnessed from happening again.
“I can reassure everyone that we’re absolutely determined to make sure that safety remains a number one priority.”
UK Coal appeared at Pontefract Magistrates’ Court last Thursday to answer allegations over health and safety checks in relation to Mr Cameron’s death. The case was adjourned until October 24 so UK Coal could carry out further investigations.
An inquest into Mr Gibson’s death was opened at Selby Magistrates Court on Monday when North Yorkshire coroner Rob Turnbull gave a provisional cause of death as asphyxiation.