The operators of a County Tyrone gold-mining company have been fined £120,000 for a serious health and safety breach which a judge said had: “The potential to cause significant injury or even death.”
Flintridge Resources Limited based at Botera Upper Road, Omagh and described as a small company operating a mine, were charged with failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees; failing to take measures as necessary to keep every place in the mine where persons work or pass secure and failing to prevent an inrush of water.
Dungannon Crown Court heard a problem occurred following the firing of explosives on July 9, 2018 in the underground excavation site.
Events from then over the next few days had: “The potential to cause significant injury or even death, in the ensuing collapse of the retaining crown pillar,” said Judge Brian Sherrard.
The in-flow of water to underground sections of the mine followed this collapse.
An employee driving a loaded shovel witnessed a fall of an estimated 150 tonnes of rock which missed him by approximately two metres, which he believed could have killed him had he been under it.
The area was closed off and some action was taken but a further collapse occurred during the night, and continued over the next 24 hours.
Around midnight between the July 10-11 the surface of a roadway within the site gave way while an excavation vehicle was being driven over, causing the right side to become lodged in a sink-hole.
The driver had to escape through a broken window of the cabin and climb down the front scoop.
Around the same time two men working underground became aware water was coming into the mine. They evacuated the scene and on returning around 90 minutes later the area in question was partially submerged and within a few hours, fully submerged.
It was estimated 860,000 litres of water entered the mine within a 60 minute period.
An inspection revealed several failings including the crown pillar being a suggested 61 percent of what should have been 15 metres.
Cable bolts supporting the roof had not been grouted into place, compromising safety.
Judge Sherrard remarked: “The company was using too many explosives in their excavations, during five groups of explosion charges at once. It has been explained these matters are attended by police who could only afford a certain amount of time for this, but that does not excuse the action taken.”
He noted a risk of water in-rush was “Neither recognised nor guarded against. The risk-assessment in this regard was not appropriate for the situation. In fact the inspector said there actually was no risk-assessment and described the document presented (by Flintridge) as worthless.”
Prior to this incident the company had no criminal convictions and while a number of enforcement notices have been issued in the interim, defence counsel stressed all matters before the court have been addressed.
Judge Sherrard said: “Beyond any shadow of doubt, this case involves high culpability. The company failed to put measures in place of recognised standards within the industry and failed to take appropriate action when the matter first arose, allowing breaches to subsist over a number of days. Corners were cut.”
Imposing the £120,000 fine the judge concluded: “I hope that signifies to the company and others working in this dangerous field, the need for exceptionally great care and scrutiny … I sincerely hope this fine does not cause any ramifications for any employee of the company.”