Worker killed in gas blowout at Boulby potash mine – The Guardian

John Anderson, 56, dies at east Cleveland site as safety manager insists recent job losses have not compromised safety
The safety boss at a mine where an experienced driver was killed in a gas blowout 1,000 metres below ground and up to three miles out beneath the North Sea has said job losses had not compromised safety.
John Anderson, 56, died at Boulby potash mine in east Cleveland at 3am on Friday when a sudden and powerful release of gas occurred in the section where he was working. The blowout of a mixture of methane and nitrogen did not explode but the high-pressure release “displaced a significant amount of mineral”, Simon Hunter, a safety manager at ICL UK, told a news conference at the mine.
A full investigation is being carried out involving the mines inspectorate.
Hunter said: “Naturally, everyone involved with Boulby is affected by this tragic incident. First and foremost our thoughts are with John’s family and friends and we will be doing everything we can to help and support them through this very difficult time.”
In 2014 there was a roof collapse at the site and an underground fire in April led to seven workers being taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.
The site, which has operated for 40 years, announced significant job losses last year. But Hunter said the three separate safety events were unrelated. Concerns that job losses had affected safety were misconstrued, he said. “When we looked at the restructure we did it in a very controlled way.”
An immediate risk assessment was carried out before the jobs were lost. Hunter said: “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.” Since the job losses happened on 1 March, checks have been done to find out their impact on safety, he said. “It has been what we thought it would be – no change.”
Anderson, from nearby Easington, had worked at the site for 35 years. At the time of the gas release, additional safety precautions were in place as the potential for blowouts had been recognised more than a week ago. They included workers remotely operating the four-metre-wide and 13.5-metre-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 Anderson’s section. No one else was injured and all were safely evacuated.
Blowouts were not regular occurrences but not uncommon either, Hunter said, and were a part of the mining process when naturally formed gas escaped.
The mine runs 24 hours a day and is one of Europe’s deepest, dropping to a depth of 1,400 metres, with tunnels reaching far out under the North Sea. Potash is a key ingredient in fertilisers.

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