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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Pike River nuggets

Pike River nuggets
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New Zealand

A selection of testimony presented in the third phase of the Pike River royal commission, which looks at the immediate cause of the explosion.

November 14
Michael Firmin, Department of Labour mines inspector.

  • Did not check Pike River coalmine had a formal system for identifying risks or hazards.
  • Had not enquired about the number of workers involved in hazard or risk assessment.
  • The DoL never reviewed his processes.
  • He had never been involved in a coalmine emergency prior to the Pike River explosion.
  • Was difficult to assess if mines were complying with health and safety law because of time restraints, and a lack of available specialist experts.
  • He did not formally audit the mine. Limited time he had on site meant less time for audits, for which he was not trained.
  • An audit would have required ventilation and geotechnical expertise.
  • He had no experience in hydro mining, and also inspected Sold Energy's Spring Creek underground mine - another hydro-mining operation.
  • Inspecting the Pike River mine once every three months was not enough.
  • Agreed the DoL knew Pike River was going to be a complex and difficult operation and the company and contractors were going to have to carefully identify the hazards and risks to meet the requirements of the HSE Act.
  • DoL had never sought advice over whether the ventilation shaft was suitable as a second exit.
  • The shaft was acceptable in certain circumstances and met the law but there was good reason to change the law so the two means of egress were intakes, which was modern practice.

November 15

  • Defended the DoL but admitted he should have monitored Pike River more closely.
  • He has made just one unannounced inspection of a coal mine.
  • There is a process in train to change the inspection system
  • Had become aware Pike River was under some financial pressure but that did not figure in his daily work. He was more concerned with tunnels and working systems.
  • Agreed that a problem with some faulty bolts in the rock face had been properly and prudently dealt with by Pike River.

November 16
Kevin Poynter, former DoL mines inspector.

  • Had never been shown Pike River log books which recorded soaring methane levels and a gas sensor that had allegedly been tampered with.
  • Had not before seen a long list of serious incidents at the mine until presented with them at the hearing.
  • In 2009 he only carried out one underground mining inspection.
  • Pike River never informed him of a cluster of spiking methane levels a month before the explosion, which were notifiable events.
  • The methane spikes indicated the mine was having issues controlling gas and ventilation.
  • Unaware of fresh air being deliberately blown across a gas sensor, and that the company's logs had reported the ventilation fan had gone off repeatedly.
  • Had not checked mine phones to ensure they worked.
  • The methane drainage was blowing out because of problems with water traps and a roadway was a mess with trip hazards.
  • Just before his last visit, on November 2, the mine had recorded a lot of methane around the underground machinery.
  • Did not know a cigarette lighter had been found in a mine vehicle, or that cigarette butts had been found in the mine.
  • Never inspected the main fan and only inspected the accident register on one visit.
  • The DoL mine inspector reported to managers who had no coal background. There was not a coordinated approach.
  • Was difficult for him as one person to be responsible for what was happening at Pike River.
  • The DoL had given him an impossible task to monitor the mine safely.
  • He was under-resourced, inadequately trained and not supported in his role.
  • Would have been beneficial to discuss Pike River's OHS with the safety manager Neville Rockhouse, but never had the opportunity because of a lack of time during inspections.

November 17

  • Denied telling Pike River's former general manager the mine's second exit walkway was adequate. Adamant he never said the mine's second exit met health and safety standards.
  • Wording in a document he had written and provided to that manager that the second exit "met the minimum standards" was unfortunate.
  • Remained firm in his belief that he had always said there needed to be another exit at Pike River.
  • The Pike River workforce had raised issues about the alternative exit when he visited the mine in April 2010.
  • At that time he not see any harnesses needed to climb out of the shaft, nor did he ascertain whether someone could safely climb out of the egress.
  • Agreed it was not acceptable that the second exit had remained defective from when he inspected the mine.
  • He would have visited the mine and inspected the methane issues if he was aware of them.
  • The prime responsibility lay with the employers who had the data and the information.
People Mentioned:
Kevin Poynter; Michael Firmin; Neville Rockhouse
Organisations Mentioned:
Department of Labour; Pike River Coal; Solid Energy
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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