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UK Coal – failings led to miner’s death

23 October 2013

The former UK Coal Mining company has been sentenced after admitting a catalogue of serious safety failings that led to the death of miner Gerry Gibson at Kellingley colliery in 2011.

Father-of-two Mr Gibson, from Sherburn in Elmet, Leeds, was killed when some 15 tonnes of rock forming a section of roof collapsed as a powered roof support was being operated. His death, on 27 September, happened just six days after a similar roof fall in the same vicinity of the mine with the same powered roof support in operation.

His employer was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as Juniper (No3) Limited, the name given after UK Coal Mining Ltd went into administration in July this year. Administrators had entered a guilty plea on behalf of the company at Leeds Magistrates earlier this month.

HSE’s investigation identified that UK Coal managers were fully aware of the earlier roof fall, which fortunately hadn’t resulted in any injuries. However, despite the clear dangers posed to workers, no investigation into the failure of the roof support was carried out and insufficient precautions were taken to prevent it happening again.

HSE also found the company had not improved the system of monitoring the roof supports to ensure warning signs of ground movement would be picked up quickly.

Mr Gibson, who moved to Leeds from his native home in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, in 1989, was trapped near to the centre of the roof fall and died from asphyxiation. A second miner, Philip Sheldon, was released after being trapped toward the edge of the collapse and allowed home after hospital treatment.

HSE told the court that it was unacceptable for UK Coal to have allowed miners to continue to work in that part of the mine following the earlier roof fall without:

  • Having carried out an in-depth investigation into the cause
  • Putting measures in place to prevent a recurrence
  • Workers being fully aware of the potential dangers, and
  • Establishing suitable procedures to ensure no one was in the area when the roof support was in operation
  • Juniper (No3), c/o the administrators at Bridgewater Place, Leeds, was fined £200,000 after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.  It was agreed that although prosecution costs were properly incurred they would not be awarded so as not to jeopardise any potential payments to the Miners’ Pensioners’ coal allowance scheme, a main creditor against UK Coa’sl limited financial assets.

After the hearing, HSE Mines Inspector John Whyatt said:

"Gerry Gibson and the men working alongside him were oblivious to the extent of the dangers posed when working near to that particular roof support. They had no reason to believe there were at risk from the roadway roof collapsing as it was being operated.

"This was a tragic and preventable incident that demonstrates the importance of employers having effective and robust safety management systems. Strong safety leadership is of paramount importance in incident prevention.

"HSE sought to prosecute despite UK Coal Mining Ltd being in administration. The importance of securing justice for Mrs Gibson cannot be overstated. There was significant public interest in a very serious offence and the company’s standard of managing health and safety was far below what was required.”

In a victim statement, Mr Gibson’s widow Brenda, said:

"Throughout Gerry’s career, he progressed in the world of mining, working in different areas and expanding his knowledge and experience. In 2004 he joined Kellingley and was a face worker in a close-knit team.

"Gerry enjoyed the camaraderie and the banter, where his clever wit, sense of humour, big heart and loving personality came across to everyone. That is what made Gerry such a loveable man to everyone he met and why he has such an enormous number of friends and people who respected him.

"He easily made friends wherever he went and became a big part of the local community in Sherburn, where he was known as ‘Gerry the Legend’.

"For 25 years, he was my best friend, my soulmate and the father of my two wonderful boys. He leaves behind treasured memories with so many people he has touched in his life, and me with an enormous, irreplaceable hole in my life and my heart.”