The Daily Mirror Investigations Team (apologies for the choice of source) have reported on Scottish Coal’s awful record when it comes to the health and safety of its opencast workers, following their £400,000 health and safety fine and more deaths on their sites last year.
The awful death of Neil Hodge, crushed to death by a dumper truck on an opencast coal mine in 2000, should have been a wake-up call.
Sadly not. There have been 2,700 injuries and 21 deaths since then in one of Britain’s most dangerous industries.
Neil died in a mine owned by Scottish Coal where, despite a close call on a nearby site in 2005, when a Land Rover driver jumped free shortly before it was crushed by a dumper truck, the firm’s record has been woeful.
There was no safe system for moving smaller vehicles among the 100-ton Terex dump trucks and staff members were not issued with two-way radios.
Now Ayr Sheriff Court has heard how drivers sat a “simplistic” test at the end of a two-and-a-half hour induction course before starting work at the Pennyvenie mine, East Ayrshire, in 2006.
One of the multiple-choice questions in this “simple” test taken by employees was: “Should you report any unsafe conditions?” The answer options included: “No, it’s not my problem”, “It’s my duty” and “Depends if it’s my mate”.
Alan Shannon, 29, got 17 out of 17 and, despite failing his dumper truck driving test on a Friday, was out driving on his own on the Monday.
He re-sat and passed the test two days later.
Asked if he’d been instructed how to cope with the truck’s six-metre-wide blind spot, Shannon replied: “I’m not sure.”
Three months later, Shannon was spotted reading a newspaper in his cab shortly before turning into the blind spot and crushing a Land Rover containing Colin Ferguson, 37, and Brian French, 48. Both men died, the court heard.
Within a year, another man, dad-of-three Jim Griffin, 40, was killed on the same mine when he was crushed between two dumper trucks.
Whether it was the effect of those deaths, or the £400,000 health and safety fine we won’t know, but Scottish Coal now has a director in charge of safety and publishes its accident rate in the first page of its annual report.
Time will tell if it saves lives but it should be a starting point for any company that puts workers in harm’s way.