Mine director sentenced to jail over Halemba catastrophe

Former director of the Halemba coal mine in Ruda Śląska, southern Poland, Kazimierz D. and former head of the ventilation department Marek Z. (names withheld due to Poland’s privacy laws) were sentenced to two years imprisonment following an investigation into the catastrophe which saw 23 miners lose their lives in November 2006.

Both men were found guilty of having put the mine in danger in the events leading up to the tragedy.

In the case of Marek Z., the court raised the sentence, while in the judgment against Kazimierz D. it decided that the sentence imposed on him would not be suspended. The third defendant, former mine chief engineer Jan J., who was also the deputy manager of the plant's operations, was sentenced to a one year suspended sentence for four years, for violating health and safety regulations.

The verdict against all three men is final, it can only be challenged in the Supreme Court.

The catastrophe in Halemba was one of the most tragic accidents in the Polish mining history. During the removal of a mining longwall 1,030 meters underground, 23 miners died as a result of a methane and coal dust explosion. The accident occurred on November 21, 2006.

The investigation, closed by the District Prosecutor's Office in Gliwice in 2008, revealed that the explosion occurred as a result of the failure to take preventive measures against natural hazards. After the ignition and explosion of methane, coal dust exploded in the excavation, wreaking havoc and killing most of the miners present.

In Halemba, workers were delegated to work despite the methane concentration exceeding the permissible level. Furthermore, documentation and samples of coal dust were forged to show that it was neutralised with stone dust.

A total of 27 people heard charges, some of whom immediately pleaded guilty.