TRAGEDY: Father Paul McGuire was killed in a mine gas trap in May 2014 at Grasstree mine.
TRAGEDY: Father Paul McGuire was killed in a mine gas trap in May 2014 at Grasstree mine.

Claims mine death victim should have known of goaf dangers

UPDATE 5.30PM WEDNESDAY: A FORMER colleague of an underground mine electrician who died after inhaling toxic air on the job said he believed the father of two should have had a good idea of the dangerous areas inside the CQ mine.

Jason Fairweather, the then-Mines Supervising Officer at Grasstree mine, which is owned by Anglo Coal, was one of the two men who found Paul McGuire's body on May 6, 2014 inside a goaf area.

The 34 year old had gained access to the area via a hatch, which at that point had been barred shut with a single bolt because the sealing process at that particular goaf was still under way.

Mr Fairweather, after claiming privilege against self incrimination, told Mackay Coroners Court he would have assumed that Mr McGuire would have had an understanding of goaf areas.

He described Mr McGuire as a "conscientious" worker with "really good" safety ethics.

A "high high" level methane alarm had activated in the control room at 1.07pm.

Electrical engineer Scott Adams went to investigate what had initially been assumed as a faulty gas monitoring sensor at 1.57pm, some 50 minutes after the alarm initially went off.

While underground, Mr Adams' handheld gas detector went off showing a peak concentration of methane gas. He spent about 20 minutes replacing and calibrating a gas sensor before he concluded the "high high" alert was real and officially raised the alarm.

At 2.26pm Mr Fairweather and ventilation officer Donald Zerner began investigating the source of the high gas levels.

The court heard prior to reaching the location where they found Mr McGuire the pair had to go through a door designed to prevent access to dangerous areas.

The court heard the "no road tape" was caught in the door indicating that someone had opened the door.

Mr Fairweather told the court he had no knowledge in his career of workers crossing "no road tape".

Barrister for Anglo, Geraldine Dann, asked Mr Fairweather if it was his evidence that no coal worker should have opened that door without a permission slip from a deputy.

"That is correct," Mr Fairweather said.

The inquest continues.


UPDATE 2PM WEDNESDAY: AN ANGLO electrician working the day Paul McGuire was found dead in a Central Queensland mine said he spent about 20 minutes checking gas sensors in the underground mine before raising alarm about dangerous gas levels.

Mr McGuire, 34, died about 1pm after opening a hatch to a mine goaf and inhaling irrespirable air. His body was not found for about two hours.

Mackay Coroners Court has heard evidence from people working at the mine the day Mr McGuire died.

Scott Adams said he had been in a control room at Grasstree mine on May 6, 2014, when he noticed the "high high alarm" for methane gas within the mine.

Following a claim of privilege for self-incrimination and being granted immunity, Mr Adams gave evidence that he spoke to former mines supervising officer Jason Fairweather about the alarm and a call was made that it may have been a faulty sensor.

Mr Adams said he kitted up, with equipment including a handheld gas sensor, and went to inspect the underground gas sensors.

The court heard his handheld gas monitor had alarmed while underground in response to elevated gas levels.

Mr Adams said he proceeded to change out and recalibrate a sensor, which also confirmed the "high high alarm" was not a malfunction and he immediately phoned his findings through.

The court heard he spent about 20 minutes underground.

Mr Adams said on reflection once his handheld gas monitor had alarmed, he should have immediately called and said the gas levels were real.

On the day Mr McGuire, an electrician, died, he had been sent to calibrate gas sensors but was issued a job card that sent him to a dangerous area within the mine.
The sensor Mr McGuire he had been sent to calibrate had been moved to a different location months earlier.

Mr Adams told the court he had worked with Mr McGuire on occasion.
"He was very confident, he was very safety minded, he was very proficient in his work," Mr Adams said.

Anglo Coal barrister Geraldine Dann asked Mr Adams about his knowledge of hatches in a mine and he said "stay away from them" and that they were not designed for human access.

Ms Dann also asked Mr Adams his views on seeing cut cable before a "seal" area within a mine and he said "it's not attached to anything".

Barrister Michael de Waard, acting for Mr McGuire's wife Melissa McGuire, asked if the area where the cut cable was found was lit and he said it was pitch black.

The court heard workers lit their way with lights attached to their helmets.

The inquest continues.

INITIAL: AN ANGLO mine worker has described the dangerous conditions inside the area he found father of two Paul McGuire dead on the ground within Grasstree mine.

"As I looked to the right I saw Paul and I said…man down," former ventilation officer with Anglo Coal, who operated the mine, Donald Garth Zerner told Mackay Coroners Court.

The 34-year-old died after opening a hatch to a mine goaf and breathing in lethal air on May 6, 2014.

The court heard the atmosphere in the area where Mr McGuire was found was about two per cent oxygen with high levels of methane.

Mr Zerner explained as part of the mine's approved management plan to seal off a goaf, which was an area that had been mined of part or all of its coal resource, the section had to be kept at only five per cent oxygen to reduce any risk of spontaneous combustion.

Before giving evidence, Mr Zerner claimed privilege from self incrimination and was directed to answer any questions by Coroner David O'Connell, meaning nothing could be used against him in possible future civil or criminal case.

Mr Zerner said the sealing process for that particular goaf was still under way at the time of Mr McGuire's death.

He was with co-worker Jason Fairweather when they were called to investigate a gas leak within the mine.

Mr Zerner said he remembers "quite clearly" - it was pitch black and he and Mr Fairweather were lighting their way using just their helmet lights when they reached the entry section meant to prevent access to the dangerous goaf.

There was "a haze" in the air where hot and cold temperatures met. He said he noticed the 5cm (two-inch) plastic "no access" tape was caught in the entry way.

"We… quickly deduced it was too dangerous to pass through it," he said.

They propped open the door with a pallet turning the area inside into a "fresh air chamber", he said, adding that he had seen something reflecting in that area.

Once it was safe to enter, they saw Mr McGuire.

Only two of the six witnesses listed for day one gave evidence as part of the day was focused on legal argument over what questions could be asked.

Coroner David O'Connell quashed a suggestion by the CFMMEU lawyer that the Department of Natural Resources, Mining and Energy did not investigate M McGuire's death properly, labelling them as "unfair".

Barrister Gavin Rebetzke, for the CFMMEU, raised concerns that the union only had limited involvement in the mine death investigation.

The coronial inquest continues.



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