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Mine fatality

21 September 2012, 15:08


I have been asked to submit yet another mining story.    

The year was 1985 and 0700 on a Tuesday morning. Power in the Winding Engine house was off due to work being done in the main substation because, due to an underground power fault. The opportunity was used to carry out work in the surface substation. Certain sections of the High Voltage supply had been isolated on a ring main system.  This underground work was holding up production and the mining staff were pretty well upset and continuing pestering the electrical staff as to when the power will be back again. Work in the substation entailed disconnecting an HT cable and reconnecting a new cable end. I was occupied in the winding engine house  doing maintenance on a “lily” when the exasperated engineer entered and asked me to fetch an update on the substation work. As I left the winding House I heard a bang and the emergency lighting died. Smoke was pouring out of the substation about 150 metres from the winding house. An ambulance arrived at the same time I entered the dark substation.     

Of all the incidents that I have seen in my time on the mines this was one of the worst:  A worker was carried out of the substation on a stretcher: The skin over most of his body was burnt to shreds , hanging off his body like a curtain. The stretcher bearers were asked to cover the man but we were told this if he was covered the flesh and skin would stick to the sheet and would hamper the cleaning of the body.   The worker died on the Saturday;.    

In  a case like this a tendency exists whereby heads are sought to roll;  It is imperative that a victim be found to take much of the blame .and thus removes some of the responsibility from the shoulders of management. While the point may be debated, the fact remains it is just another natural mining law of that time.     

Cause of incident:   Due to the surface substation feeding one side of the ring main system there was power underground although isolated. The electrician was pestered to the point where he switched in the Ht switch feeding the lighting transformer. The switch also powered up the cable leading to surface and shorted out the cable the worker was working on .and subsequently exploded in his face and upper torso. The switching procedure was not adhered to in the surface substation.   

Just an indication of the damage: the worker was using a standard 17mm Gedore ring/flat combination spanner to remove the nuts on the cable lugs. The electrical flash melted much of the flat end of the spanner while the rear end was melted too, apparently where it touched the steel frame. The rear wall, about a meter from the electrical panel was blackened by the explosion over a length of about 4 meters
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