Bosses at Boulby Mine were already on a heightened state of alert in relation to gas escapes when a worker was killed in an underground blast in the early hours of this morning.
At a press conference at the site this afternoon the safety manager, Simon Hunt, confirmed that mine operations were at an “additional secondary ore procedure”.
This means that usual working processes are changed when there are signs of possible gas blows - sudden and powerful realeases of gas.
Mr Hunt said: “These events are not uncommon and we have procedures in place to ensure safe working, there is no suggestion to say that these procedures were not being followed. At this early stage of the investigation it would appear that this particular event was unprecedented.”
The blast, which led to the death of miner John Anderson, displaced mineral pieces and occurred at 3am, 1000 metres underground and 4.5km out to sea.
Mr Anderson, of Easington, was driving a continuous miner machine which tunnels underground and makes a roadway when it happened. He was part of a team of eight men working in that particular area mining for potash but his colleagues were not injured.
Mr Hunt told the media that it was still not clear whether the gas blast or the following debris killed the 56 year-old man who had worked at Boulby for 35 years.
He added: “The investigations into the incident have already begun but they are at a very early stage. We will be co-operating fully with the Mines Inspectorate in order that we can discover exactly what happened.
“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”.
Operations at the mine, which are usually 24/7 ceased while the 100 other workers down the mine at the time were located and brought to the surface.
Police were initially called along with other emergency services as a matter of routine but handed the investigation over to HM Inspectorate of Mines who remain at the site.
It is thought that operations will resume tomorrow (Saturday).
Mr Hunt also dismissed claims, being led by local MP Tom Blenkinsop, that job losses at the mine in a bid to save money are having an impact on health and safety.
Mr Hunt added: “It is an interesting and obvious question that will be asked. These concerns are misconstrued when you look at the risk assessment we did. There were no changes in the density of supervision, no change in the mining competence underground and since they have occurred we have been back to assess that impact and it is what we thought it would be - no change.”