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Compensation news 04/12/2006

Polish mining accident is the worst in three decades

Poland has experienced its worst work accident in three decades, with a fatal gas blast in the Selisian coalbelt killing 23 workers.

There hasn't been such a serious industrial accident in the country since 1979, when 34 miners were killed in Bytom, also in Silesia.

The accident at work explosion took place in one shaft, burying workers 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) under the coal mine surface.

Rescuers and co-workers battled with hazardous work conditions at the mine immediately after the blast and temperatures were said to have reached 1,500 degrees Celsius.

Spokesman for the mining company Zbiginiew Madej said: "It is impossible to breathe in the area of the explosion and the ventilation has been destroyed."

Twenty-six miners aged 21 to 59 employed by an outside company had been working beneath the surface when the work accident explosion took place. Three miners managed to make their way to the mine entrance despite the heat.

Attempts to reach the other workers overnight failed because the high concentrations of gas raised the risk of another blast. When the rescue team reached the other men, they were already dead and so badly burned they were too charred to be recognised or for any personal injuries to be examined.

When the accident at work happened, miners were trying to permanently close down a shaft which had been damaged in another industrial accident that took place in March 2006. They were trying to retrieve valuable equipment that was abandoned during the pervious accident.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski travelled to the mine and said the death of the miners was a 'tragedy' and that "the families of the miners will receive the necessary aid."

Kaczynski declared a day of national mourning for those who had died and companies across the country flew the national flag to mark respect.

This year, 21 miners had already died in mines in Poland - an increase on 20 last year. This region has a record of serious mining work accidents and shafts caving in, including similar incidents in 1990 and 1991 which also killed around 20 people.

The mining sector remains an important industry in Poland. Half of the country's 70 pits have closed, however, and the industry employs 120,000 people compared to 400,000 in 1989. Nonetheless, Poland produced more than 50 per cent of the total amount of EU coal in 2005.