BHP Mine remains closed during death probe

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Tuesday, February 7, 2006

BHP Billiton Ltd says its underground Leinster nickel mine in Western Australia, where a contractor was killed in an explosion last week, will stay shut until the outcomes of a government investigation are released.

A BHP spokesman in Perth refused to estimate how long company and government officials will take to investigate the incident. "These investigations can go on for quite some time and the mine will remain closed for that same length of time, said Brian Watt. "But it's difficult to speculate"

Watt declined to comment on how much damage the underground explosion caused to the mine, or how much time would be needed to bring the operation back on line once a decision to resume is made.

BHP Billiton have confirmed the death at the Leinster Nickel Operation, north of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia - 950 km north east of Perth. BHP said the incident occurred late in the afternoon of Friday, February 3.

Mark Quinn, 32, from Broken Hill in far western New South Wales and an employee of MacMahon’s, was fatally injured. He was working approximately 900 meters underground when an explosion occurred. BHP said in a media release that there were no other persons injured as a result of the incident.

The cause of the explosion is not yet known. Operations at Leinster have been stopped and employees at site are being briefed and counseled.

BHP Billiton is the world's third largest nickel producer, with the Leinster mine producing up to 45,000 metric tons of nickel concentrates a year.

Following speculations that Leinster's closure may lead to a nickel shortage, a spokesperson told Reuters that BHP Billiton had sufficient nickel concentrate stockpiled to last until the mine reopens.

The Western Australian government has described the fatality rate in the mining industry as "deplorable and atrocious".

John Bowler, Western Australia's Employment Protection Minister says he will consider implementing changes to improve the safety record of the mining industry. Mr Quinn's death is the third underground fatality and the fourth mining death this financial year.

The new Minister, John Bowler, says he will consider implementing any changes needed to improve safety in the industry.

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