GOLBORNE. Golborne, Lancashire. 18th. March, 1979.

An explosion of firedamp occurred in the Plodder Seam at the colliery when ten men died and one was seriously injured. The official report on the disaster was made by Mr. L.D. Rhydderch, H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines and Quarries.

At the time of the accident, the Golborne Colliery was one of twenty-two producing coal in the Western area of the National Coal Board and was in Golborne within the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, mid-way between Warrington and Wigan. The colliery employed 870 men, 766 of which worked underground and 104 on the surface and produced 9000 tonnes of saleable coal per week from four seams. These were the Crombuke, the Ince Six Feet, the Higher Florida and the Plodder seams.

The colliery was first sunk in the 1860s and was served by two shafts, the No.2 Upcast and the No.3 Downcast. No.2 was 4.2 meters in diameter and sunk to 545 meters and was used for manriding. The No.3 shaft was 5.4 meters in diameter and sunk to the same depth and was used for men and materials.

In August 1975 an underground connection to the Bickershaw colliery was made and in April 1977 all coal winding operations at the Golborne Colliery were stopped and the coal was wound at Bickershaw. Parsonage Colliery in Leigh was also connected to the Bickershaw colliery but the fact that there were three collieries connected had no bearing on the explosions.

The mine was ventilated by a 653 kW single inlet radial flow fan and firedamp drainage was in operation from all the longwall districts. This was extracted to the surface where it was exhausted to the atmosphere.

The men at the colliery holding statutory appointments were, MR. J.R. Hunter the Area Director, Mr. P.J. Griffiths Deputy Director (mining), Mr. J.W. Evans, Area Chief Mining Engineer, Mr. F.P. Reid, Colliery manager, Mr. W. Magrath Colliery Surveyor. Mr. G. Eaves was appointed as Senior Undermanager and there were two other undermanagers, Mr. G. Blackburn and Mr. M.A. Claber. The undermanager in charge of the Plodder Seam was Mr. Blackburn and the manager had appointed Mr. B. Jones as the colliery electrical engineer and Mr. P. Allred as the colliery mechanical engineer.

At about 11.15 a.m. on the 18th. March, eleven men were working in the Plodder Seam development district at the colliery when the explosion occurred. Three men died instantly and seven died later in hospital.

On the afternoon shift of the 17th. March, a deputy, Mr. C. McGuire, inspected the whole of the Plodder Seam and paid particularly to the auxiliary fans. The manager had said that these fans were to be inspected at intervals not exceeding four hours. The first inspection commenced at 14.30 and nothing unusual was found in the roads but there was firedamp in the face. All the auxiliary fans were in good order and the amount of gas did not appear to be different from these shown on the statutory records. A second inspection was made at 19.45 and no change in the conditions was detected. At the end of the shift, Mr. McGuire reported to the deputy Mr. W. Scholes who was in charge of the mine, and completed his written report.

On the night shift of Saturday 17/18th March, a deputy Mr. A. Molyneaux, began the inspection of the Plodder Seam developments and found that the conditions in the drivage and the Dip Return were normal. continuing his inspection he realised that the fan ventilating the Return Drivage had stopped. On investigation, he found that the fan was suspended by only one chain and that the inbye end of the fan had separated from the steel ducting. He also saw signs that the cable had been damaged. He traced the cable back to the fan switch, turned it off and took out the plug. He realised that he could not restore the ventilation and fenced off the entrance to the Return Drivage. He went on and found that the Intake Drivage fans had also stopped. He tried to start them but without success. On investigation, he found that the circuit breaker on the transformer supplying the switches had tripped and would not re-close. He telephoned the information to the surface where the official in charge of the mine Mr. D. Hall a deputy took the call and at 00.45 to the electrician in charge Mr. J. Marsh.

From the conversation with Hall and Marsh thought that the stoppage might have been caused by the planned movement of electrical apparatus which was scheduled for the weekend but Molyneaux was not fully convinced. He tried again to close the circuit-breaker but again failed and he continued his inspection to the top of the Plodder Dip Intake. He again telephoned the deputy at the surface who advised him to fence off the Intake Drivage. He did this accompanied by a locomotive driver Mr. K. Wareing and before He erected the fence he tested for gas with his flame safety lamp but detected none. he left the area at 05.00 and wrote up his report. He spoke to Mr. Hall who had already included the problem in the colliery log book. Mr. Molyneaux left the mine at 06.00

On the day shift on Sunday 18th. March an overman, Mr. J. Crooks, who was in charge of the whole mine arrived at 06.30 and conferred with Mr. Bolton and noted from the report books that the fans were not running and that Molyneaux had fenced off the entrances to both the places. He was concerned and asked the deputy Mr. J. McKenna who was responsible for the day shift on the Plodder Seam development district. McKenna went underground at 07.00 and at about 08.00 he telephoned Crooks to confirm that he had examined the Return Drivage fan and found it damaged. He also added that the fan had dropped at one end, that the fan blades were damaged and that the guide vane cowl had become detached and was 45 meters along the inside of the air ducts. He saw that the cable entry gland was torn out and the connecting bolts between the fan and it’s steel ducts was broken. Mr. McKenna was then instructed by Crooks to transport the fan from the Plodder Dip Intake to replace the damaged fan.

The planned work for the day shift electricians included a planned stoppage of the Intake Drivage fans. This necessitated a de-gassing of the Intake Drivage. To do this a member of the colliery ventilation staff, Mr W. McPherson was underground to attend to these operations.

The three electricians who were to do the work were absent and Overman Crooks had re-deployed an electrician, Mr. B. Sherman at 07.45 from another seam to the Plodder district. The electrician in charge of the Sunday day shift was Mr. T. Peet, who was on the surface and arranged for Mr. C. Dallimore to be called from home. He arrived at the colliery at 07.50 and was sent to work with an apprentice, Mr. B. Rawsthorne after they had received work permits and job description from Mr. Peet.

Mr. Crooks went underground at 09.00 to supervise the work in the Ince Six Foot seam. He was satisfied that McKenna was competent to deal with the situation in the Plodder seam. At 09.30 the underground manager Mr. M.A. Claber arrived at the colliery and spoke to Crooks on the phone to familiarise himself with the state of the mine. He was satisfied with the arrangements that had been made for the work in the Plodder seam.

The electrical work consisted of moving one section which controlled two fans from the Intake Drivage, from the sub-station opposite the entrance to the Intake Drivage onto a metal platform above the conveyor Dip Intake Conveyor. Two additional switches had been previously transported to the site and were already on the platform leaving room for the other two gate end switches and the section switch.

At 9.30 Dallimore reported to Peet that the busbar connection required for coupling the two additional switches was not available and because of the time required to provide the interconnecting trunk would extend the period during which the fans would be stopped. Peet instructed Dallimore to restore power to the three original switches, with the view of coupling the additional switches the following weekend.

At about 11.20 Mr, McGuire was near the locomotive garage on the Main Intake near the bottom of the downcast shaft. Mr. F. Smith who was a deputy was at the terminal of the Ince Six Foot seam manrider. Both realised that something unusual had occurred. Mr. McGuire heard two muffled thuds, sensed a momentary reversal of the air, saw clouds of dust and felt a popping of his ears. Mr. Smith heard a bang, noted that the ventilation doors had opened and that there was excessive dust in the atmosphere. He immediately telephoned the overman, Mr. Crooks who was in the Ince Six Foot district. Both McGuire and Crooks telephoned in turn to the surface to raise the alarm and inform Mr. Claber who was in the control room at the surface. At this time men at the surface had seen clouds of dust coming from the exhaust of the ventilation fan.

The undermanager directed McGuire to investigate the Plodder district and with Mr. Crooks to jointly evacuate the men from other parts of the mine. Mr. Eaves, the deputy manager was informed and he took control of the situation by putting into operation the Emergency Procedure. he summoned the Boothstown Rescue Brigade and notified various responsible persons.

Below ground, Mr. McGuire went inbye by locomotive to within 80 meters outbye of the Plodder Intake level where he had to stop because he could not see because of the dust. From here he went inbye taking great care with the locomotive driver Mr. H. Baxter. After they had gone about 30 meters they came across Mr. B. Trumble who was crawling and groping his way out. He was very badly burnt and could not see properly. His lamp was alight but was dragging on the floor. Mr. McGuire told Baxter to stay with him and he went forward on his own. A further 10 meters he stumbled over Peter Grainey who was badly burned. he stopped to comfort him but after a little time, Grainey got up and walked towards Baxter and Trumble. Baxter took charge of both injured men.

The visibility had improved and McGuire went forward again and found another survivor, Mr. W. McPherson badly burned lying near the Intake Drivage fans. Mr. McGuire decided to go outbye for help but a few yards outbye, he saw a fourth survivor, Mr. B. Rawsthorne standing on the conveyor. He assisted him to the sub-station and gave him a drink. He then went to the top of the Plodder Intake Dip and reported to the surface. He was told that rescue teams were on their way.

Crooks and Mcguire then made their way into the Plodder workings and passed four injured men in the Plodder Dip Intake and in the intake, they released a severely burned man Mr. B. Sherman from under the rubble. They also found Dallimore under rubble and they thought he was dead. McGuire remained with the injured while Crooks went for more assistance. At this time six casualties had been found and there were five men that had not been accounted for.

Mr, Crooks reached the top of the Plodder Dip about 12.00 and saw the Rescue teams arriving along with members of the colliery workforce with stretchers and blankets. The colliery personnel organised the stretchers and the Rescue Team went inbye. Trumble, McPherson and Grainey were taken to the surface,. Rawsthorne had returned to the sub-station and was repeatedly saying, “Come here. I want to tell you what happened. I told him not to do it.”

During the rescue operations, Mr. Crooks noted that the auxiliary fans for the intake drivage were running. To reduce the noise he stopped them by pushing the stop bottom on the gate-end switch since the fans were not doing anything useful due to the destruction of the air ducting by the explosion. It was pointed out at the inquiry that this meant that there was still power on after the explosion.

Sherman and Rawsthorne were the next to be taken out of the mine and under the direction of Harris, a third officer at the Boothstown Rescue Station the Team continued to search for survivors. They found four more casualties in the Return Connection which left one man still missing.

The Team returned at 13.10 to the outbye end of the Intake Drivage which had been made the fresh air base. The Team inspected the drivage but did not find anyone else and they returned at 13.40. After consultation with the senior management officials of the colliery and Mr. L.D. Rhydderch, a third Rescue Team made another search of the Return Connection and found Mr. J. Berry apparently dead and covered with debris. He was taken out of the pit at 13.50.

All the electricity was turned off to the area by Mr. A. Parr on the instructions of Mr. Reid, the manager, and the area was left for a thorough investigation as to the cause of the disaster.

The men who lost their lives were:

  • John T. Berry, development worker
  • Colin Dallimore, electrician
  • Desmond Edwards, faceworker
  • Patrick Grainey, development worker
  • Peter Grainey, development worker
  • Raymond A. Hill, development worker
  • John McKenna, deputy
  • Walter McPherson, ventilation officer
  • Brian Sherman., electrician
  • Bernard Trumble, development worker
  • Brian Rawsthorne was seriously injured

It had been established by the Rescue teams that there were no fires and tests were made on the state of the atmosphere. The Plodder seam recovered quickly but the Intake Drivage was left unventilated until 21st. March and work in other parts of the mine were suspended until the de-gassing was completed.

On the morning of the 19th March a meeting was held at the colliery and the investigation under the direction of H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines was begun and a group from the Safety in Mines Research Establishment (SMRE) were called in to assist.

As in any mine explosion there had to be a build-up of firedamp, air, and a source of ignition. It was known that the Plodder seam was gassy and it was confirmed that the fans that were ventilating the Intake Drivage had been stopped before the explosion for a minimum of ten hours and a maximum of fifteen hours.

The rate at which the seam gave off gas was calculated to be 95 litres per second so in that time 3400 to 5100 cubic meters of firedamp would have been released. Four hours after the explosion samples were taken at 100 metre intervals along the Intake drivage averaged 20% firedamp. Careful monitoring of the de-gassing operations were made on 21st March and about 6680 cubic meters of gas were driven from the mine.

There could be no doubt that on the morning of the explosion the Intake Drivage contained large quantities of firedamp and this could have been overflowing into the Plodder Dip Intake when the fans were not working. This accounted for the build up of the gas.

The drivages were protected by stone dust barriers and two of these barriers in the Dip Intake and a single barrier in the Dip Return were found to be completely disrupted with the supporting brackets torn from the arch girders.

The investigations of the S.M.R.E. suggested a sequence of events of the explosion and the possible sources of ignition were considered. There were no open fires in the pit and no contraband was found. All the flame lamps that were issued were considered safe after the explosion and no shotfiring was even considered on that Sunday morning with no detonators issued. There was no evidence of frictional heat being made by any of the machines and ignition from a stone falling and causing a spark was not a possibility as there had been no falls.

There was a well-founded suspicion that the gas was fired from an electrical source and there was an exhaustive investigation into this cause. It was established that the power was on at the Dip Intake but the apparatus at the inbye end of the Return Connection and all the apparatus at the Dip Return was not live.

All the apparatus was fully tested at the N.C.B. Area Central Workshops and several items were found to be damaged or defective and could have ignited gas but they were not considered to have caused the explosion. The damaged fan that had been found by Mr. Molyneaux, a deputy was examined. After the explosion, it was found that the studs fastening the fan motor terminal box were sheared and the motor leads were damaged. The section switch controlling the fan had tripped out. It was possible that the loose fan blades caused the fan to vibrate and damaged the terminal box and leads.

The two casualties in their conversations after the explosion gave a pointer as to the cause of ignition. Both gave the cause of the ignition to the actions of the electricians. One mentioned a “remote cable” associated with the switch and a “rectifier” and a “flash”. These remarks when coupled with Rawthorne’s concern at the time of his rescue to Cooks were very significant.

The main switch to the Intake drivage was closed manually but it could be opened manually or automatically. It had an auxiliary transformer at 25 volts for remote tripping and locking. This circuit left the side of the unit by a bolted socket to which a meter of cable was attached. An identical plug was fitted at the other end of the auxiliary cable and both bore the notice, “DO NOT DISMANTLE WITH POWER ON.”

Tests at the S.M.R.E. confirmed that the interlocking 25 volt circuit was not designed or intended to be intrinsically safe. These tests showed that the spark could because by a short circuit across the live pin and earth or by connecting a remote control circuit rectifier between live pins or between a live pin and earth. These sparks were capable of igniting an explosive mixture of firedamp and air.

No rectifier could be found near the switches but there was evidence that Dallimore was using a rectifier prior to the explosion. He was probably in the act of testing the operation of the section switch interlocking circuit. The seriously injured Rawsthorne, the apprentice electrician confirmed this in his evidence the day after the explosions and again nine weeks later when he had fully recovered.

The Inquiry concluded that the explosion was the result of an ignition of firedamp in the Plodder Dip Intake airway. The gas built up due to the excessive delay in restoring the ventilation and the ignition of the explosive mixture was a spark produced between two live connector pins in an auxiliary plug on the interlocking circuit cable attached to a section switch on which the electricians were working.

As a result of the Inquiry the following recommendations were made:

1). Switchgear which controls auxiliary ventilating fans should be sited on the intake end of the drivages which the fans ventilate.

2). The manger’s auxiliary ventilation rules for de-gassing of drivages should ensure that-

a). unless firedamp concentration can positively be controlled to not exceed 1.25% all electrical apparatus on the return side of the place to be de-gassed should be isolated. This does not apply to apparatus which is certified intrinsically safe and is also approved under regulation 20 or regulation 21A of the Coal and Other Mines (Electricity) Regulations 1956 as amended.

b). all persons are withdrawn from places likely to be affected before the de-gassing operation is commenced.

3).In places where regulation 22 of the Coal and Other Mines (Electricity) regulation 1956 applies

a). no exposed live circuit should be tested unless the circuit and the method of the test are certified intrinsically safe, and

b). the type of circuit used for the control and interlocking of auxiliary fans and section switches should be clearly identified and should be intrinsically safe.

4). Close coordination between mining and electrical departments is necessary to ensure the proper planning of electrical installations and reliability of electrical supply in relation to places ventilated by auxiliary fans.

5). Greater supervision and inspection of electrical control and interlocking arrangements of auxiliary fans, and early warning devices for the mechanical protection of such fans.

6). In the event of an interruption in the normal ventilating arrangements of drivages in known gassy conditions, alternative arrangements should be provided where practicable to maintain adequate standards.”

GOLBORNE. Golborne, Lancashire. 18th March 1979.

The report of the causes and the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at the Golborne Colliery, Lancashire on the 18th March 1979. The Health and Safety Executive.

Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.

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