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Mine boss denies job losses compromised safety after worker's death

The safety boss at a mine where an experienced driver was killed in a gas blow-out 1,000m below ground and up to 5,000m out beneath the North Sea insisted job losses had not compromised safety.

John Anderson, 56, died at Boulby potash mine in East Cleveland at 3am on Friday when a sudden and powerful release of gas occurred in the section where he was working.

The blow-out of a mixture of methane and nitrogen did not explode but the high pressure release "displaced a significant amount of mineral", Simon Hunter, a safety manager at ICL UK, told a news conference at the mine.

A full investigation is being carried out involving Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Mines.

Mr Hunter said: "Naturally everyone involved with Boulby is affected by this tragic incident.

"First and foremost our thoughts are with John's family and friends and we will be doing everything we can to help and support them through this very difficult time."

In 2014 there was a roof collapse at the site and a frightening underground fire in April led seven workers to be checked in hospital for smoke inhalation.

The site, which has operated for 40 years, announced significant job losses last year.

But Mr Hunter said the three separate safety events were unrelated.

Concerns that job losses impacted on safety were "misconstrued", he said.

"When we looked at the restructure we did it in a very controlled way," he said.

An immediate risk assessment was carried out before the jobs were lost.

"What we were keen to ensure was there was no change to the density of supervision, there has been no change in the mining competence underground."

Since the job losses happened on March 1, checks have been done to find out their impact on safety, he said.

"It has been what we thought it would be - no change."

Mr Anderson, from nearby Easington, had worked at the site for 35 years.

At the time of the gas release, additional safety precautions were in place as the potential for blow-outs had been recognised more than a week ago.

They included workers remotely operating the 4m-wide and 13.5m-long mining machinery, so they were standing away from the mineral as it was being cut.

There were more than 100 miners underground at the time, with eight men in Mr Anderson's section. No-one else was injured and all were safely evacuated.

Blow-outs were not regular occurrences but not uncommon either, he said, and were a part of the mining process when naturally-formed gas escaped.

The mine runs 24 hours a day and is one of Europe's deepest, dropping to 1,400m with tunnels reaching far out under the North Sea.

Potash is a key ingredient in fertilisers.

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