Employees who first responded to high gas warnings raised at a central Queensland mine after the death of a worker have told a coronial inquest they initially thought it was a false alarm.
- A coronial inquest into the 2014 death of Paul McGuire at a Queensland mine has heard it took two hours for the engineer’s body to be found
- Employees who gave evidence said they had previously suspected that the sensor that detected a dangerous level of methane gas was faulty
- The inquest will probe the circumstances surrounding Mr McGuire’s death, including why his job card sent him to the wrong location
Thirty-four-year-old electrician Paul McGuire was sent to an underground area of the Grasstree coal mine near Middlemount, to calibrate a gas monitor, but the job card had sent him to the wrong location.
He opened a hatch to the sealed room and suffocated on methane gas in a disused area known as a “goaf”.
The father of two died almost instantly at about 1:05pm on May 6, 2014.
His body was found almost two hours later.
One of the objectives of the inquest is to determine whether the actions of employees following this alarm were in accordance with best practice.
Suspicions of faulty sensor
A coronial inquest Mr McGuire’s death, underway in Mackay, has shed some light on what happened during those hours.
Scott Adams, an electrical engineer for Grasstree operator Anglo American, told the inquest he was in a control room when a “high high” gas alarm, which signalled that levels of methane had exceeded 1.25 per cent, was recorded.
An investigation by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy found the alert came through about two minutes after Mr McGuire had opened the hatch.
“In past history, there was always a suspicion that the sensor was faulty,” Mr Adams told the inquest.
“I was uncertain about … whether it was real.”
Mr Adams went underground with a handheld gas monitor to verify the methane reading, and also spent time recalibrating and checking sensors.
The monitor’s reading confirmed the initial alarm was not a malfunction, and Mr Adams then raised the alarm.
“The gas levels that they were seeing upstairs were actually what was reading underground,” he said.
“The handheld monitor was reading the same levels as the real-time fixed monitoring.”
He told the court he was underground working on sensors for about 20 minutes.
He said in hindsight, he would have raised the alarm much more quickly.
“I should have withdrawn immediately and made a telephone call … to the control room to say, ‘yes it was real,'” he said.
Mr Adams also described his encounters with Mr McGuire.
“He was very confident, very safety-minded, very proficient in his work,” he said.
Jason Fairweather, who was a supervising officer on the day Mr McGuire died, also testified.
“We had a discussion about whether something had gone wrong with the sensor because there was such a sudden spike,” he said.
Mr Fairweather and another deputy, Garth Zerner, went underground to locate the source of the gas leak.
“You could see the door was open like a small tunnel and the goaf gas was coming out,” Mr Fairweather said.
Mr Fairweather said they struggled to open a door to the goaf due to pressure differences.
The pair also had to ensure they ventilated the area appropriately.
“I opened the door and Garth grabbed a disused pallet nearby,” Mr Fairweather said.
“I opened and cracked the door and Garth got the pallet around and shoved it into the door so it was wedged open.
“Garth turned to me and said ‘man down, man down.'”
The coroner’s inquest listing, which details topics to be examined, said Mr McGuire’s body was found at 2:50pm.
A report by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy said mine staff attempted CPR and made an emergency call just after 3pm.
The inquest is set to explore whether training and supervision was adequate, and why Anglo’s job card system issued Mr McGuire the wrong location to service equipment.
Lawyers representing Anglo Coal, the Mines Department, the CFMEU and Mr McGuire’s family have been present for proceedings.