Miners chief wants action after UK Coal escapes fine

A MINERS’ union chief is demanding action after a mining company avoided a fine following a prosecution for the death of one of its employees.

Jeff Wood, president of the Mansfield-based Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), feels the Health and Safety Executive has let miner John Harbron and his family down.

UK Coal Operations Ltd was found guilty of failing to ensure an employee’s welfare after Mr Harbron was killed when 40 steel pipes he was unloading from a rail car at Thoresby Colliery fell on him in July 2009.

It emerged during a Nottingham Crown Court hearing last month that managers at the pit had failed to act on at least four reports from locomotive drivers that the three-tonne pipe packs were becoming unstable during transit.

The company was ordered to pay £300,000 in fines and costs after the successful Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution, but was unable to pay as it had no assets after restructuring and ceasing to trade last year.

It now trades under a different name - UK Coal Operations Ltd and Mr Wood is now urging local MPs to raise the matter in parliament.

Said Mr Wood: “UK Coal Mining Ltd has had an appalling safety record as Mr Harbron’s was one of seven fatalities within a four-year period.

“We see the HSE as watching over the industry from management right down to the lads on the surface - it seems wrong that the company does not have to pay just because it has a different name.

“As individuals we would be chased around the world but when a company can do this what message does it send out to workers at Thoresby?

“If the company was restructuring why did the HSE not say some assets need to be retained?”

Sherwood MP Mark Spencer said safety was paramount but jobs still needed to be protected at Thoresby Colliery. The MP added: “There is no point if it is not safe for the workers.

“But it is worth noting that the company’s safety record has improved since.

“I would be happy to (raise the matter in parliament) if Mr Wood wants to contact me but he cannot do that through the Chad.”

A spokesman for UK Coal Mining Operations Ltd said the company had restructured in December 2012 before the John Harbron prosecution began in order to separate its mining and property arms.

He added: “In order to separate the two companies we had to create a new company name. If that had not happened it is likely there would be no business now - it was essential to keep it going.”

The spokesman agreed UK Coal’s safety record had been ‘unacceptable’ and management played a key part in ensuring a safe environment.

A HSE spokesman said: “The HSE takes prosecutions in order to secure justice for families like John’s and we achieved what we set out to do. In the words of his widow Sharon, in her statement to the media at the conclusion of the court case, John was a ‘hard-working, honest and genuine man who loved his family and was always there for us.’

“She added: ‘Nothing can bring John back but we can at least say we got justice for him and we can at last put this behind us.’

“HSE does not have the power to act to secure the assets in advance of UK Coal’s company restructuring as suggested. It is regrettable if no assets remain in UK Coal Mining Limited in order to meet the sentence imposed by the court.

“However, it is important to remember that the court imposed fines and costs on the basis of the scale of harm and the seriousness of the offence rather than simply the company’s ability to pay.”