Macraes mine safety breaches on rise

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 05/01/2013

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Ventilation fan failures, a broken leg, a spinal fracture and two potentially serious accidents at the Macraes Flat gold mine are among the 17 mining safety incidents reported in Otago and Southland last year.

Documents released under the Official Information Act list incidents reported to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment since September 2011 to October last year, and the action taken by mine owners and the ministry in response.

The number of reports has increased from 10 in 2011.

Sixteen of the 17 incidents happened at Oceana Gold's Macraes Flat mine, near Palmerston in East Otago - the country's largest gold producer.

The 17th incident was a landslip at Bathurst Resources' Nightcaps mine, in which no-one was hurt.

Another incident is still being considered for prosecution. The ministry withheld information about it for legal reasons.

Ministry high hazards and specialist services general manager Brett Murray said Oceana Gold was conscientious about reporting incidents and went beyond what was legally required.

Because it was the largest operation in the region, it was expected it would have a lot of reported incidents compared to other mines.

The ministry was working with Oceana Gold to improve safety at the mine and encouraged reporting of incidents, he said.

Extraction fans in the underground section of the Macraes mine stopped twice, on June 5 and July 16.

This could have exposed miners to diesel fumes and dust buildups, and also compromised fire safety, the ministry says.

Macraes was given a written warning after the June 5 incident, because miners were not evacuated for 50 minutes after the fans stopped, the ministry says.

Regulations require immediate evacuation if the fans are shut off for more than 30 minutes.

Oceana Gold head of business development Darren Klinck said the rule requiring evacuations within 30 minutes related to coalmining, where there was a risk of methane buildup.

In New Zealand it also applied to gold mines where there was no methane risk, he said.

The mines manager felt fan failures in a gold mine were not a high hazard incident, but Oceana Gold had complied with the law and reported them, Mr Klinck said.

There were two "high potential" incidents - in which someone could have been killed or seriously injured - at Macraes in the last year, the ministry says.

On November 16, 2011, a truck rolled backwards down a slope in the mine before running up the side of the tunnel and almost tipping over.

On April 22 last year, steering failed on an integrated tool carrier - a kind of lifting device - being used by miners, prompting a written warning to the company that maintenance checks should be done daily.

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Among other incidents, a dump truck driver in the mine suffered a compression fracture of the spine after tipping the vehicle's rear section, and a worker fell from a bulldozer, breaking his leg.

- Fairfax Media

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