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Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Pike River nuggets

Pike River nuggets
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New Zealand

A selection of submissions to the Royal Commission of Inquiry in its final phase of hearings. The commission is due to deliver its findings to the Governor-General by September.

April 2

Department of Labour lawyer Kristy McDonald QC.

  • The DoL could have done more to support its inspectors.
  • Enforcement action could have been taken over the lack of a second egress and stone dusting at Pike River. Instead, its inspectors were encouraged to negotiate with the company.
  • The inspectors did not know of the extensive evidence of problems at Pike River, including high methane readings, because the company did not tell them. Even the mine manager was not aware of all of the problems.
  • At times, the department had only one dedicated mining inspector, and they were not trained to carry out audits.
  • The department now wants a substantive review of underground mining legislation, including moving away from the requirement to take "all practicable steps"' to keep staff safe, and replace it with something more definitive.
  • Proposes three pillars of support with more employer responsibilities, more support for worker involvement in health and safety, and an active regulator.
  • All operators would be required to produce auditable health and safety management systems and emergency plans, with stricter controls on hazards like methane.
  • The Ministry of Economic Development would assess permit applications under the Crown Minerals Act, including principal hazard management plans before mining begins.
  • Mines would require ventilation officers and worker health and safety reps.
  • Mines need to develop emergency response plans, and conduct safety drills underground.
  • The mine manager must play a greater role in future rescue efforts, with the DoL retaining the right of veto. The police should retain the lead role.

Solid Energy lawyer Craig Stevens.

  • The inspectorate should be contracted out to an overseas regulator, preferably from Queensland.
  • That would alleviate the problem of trying to staff the New Zealand unit in direct competition with Australia. The mining risks are the same in both countries.
  • Too big a challenge to establish a fully resourced and efficient coal mines inspectorate in New Zealand in what is rapidly becoming a single market.

Coal Industry Association spokesman Tony King

  • The inspectorate used to be a place where mining professionals were happy to go, but that had changed significantly over the past 20 years.
  • Its reputation needed rebuilding, but it would be hard to match Australia's pay and conditions.
  • The coal association favoured a local inspectorate, but in such a small country there were issues with how it was resourced and staffed.
  • Contracting the inspectorate overseas could lead to a high turnover of people, with no specialist knowledge of the individual mine sites they were inspecting.

NZ Police lawyer Simon Moore SC.

  • The police should still be in charge after a mine disaster.
  • Police officers were not mining experts, but had practical experience of handling emergencies.
  • Mine manager not suitable to lead a rescue. The former Pike River mine manager Doug White initially did not even realise there had been an explosion.
  • Someone in Wellington was needed to deal with other department heads, the diplomatic core and securing specialist equipment, and also help make life and death decisions.

Mines Rescue Service lawyer Garth Gallaway.

  • For five days the police wrongly thought the men could be alive and trapped, whereas Mines Rescue doubted that.
  • It had been a large blast which lasted 52 seconds in a small mine, and all the men carried self-rescuers and had been trained to walk out in the event of trouble.
  • Apart from survivor Daniel Rockhouse, who was much closer to the mine portal, there had been no contact from underground, and the gassy atmosphere in the immediate aftermath of the explosion was probably deadly.
  • The police relied on Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall.
  • Police had also thought there were rescue chambers underground and inaccurate information was passed on to overseas experts.

April 3
Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union lawyer Nigel Hampton, QC.

  • Return to underground check inspectors as called for in 2008.
  • DoL so inept that a stand-alone regulator is needed.
  • Pike River Coal Ltd failed abysmally to protect its workers underground, and the DoL had allowed it to happen.
  • The HSE Act should be changed to introduce a criminal offence of corporate manslaughter.
  • DoL has forfeited its right to be the mining regulator.
  • Need a specialist Crown agency for workplace regulation, not a regulator swallowed up in a new super-ministry.
  • Return to the check inspector system.
  • US research shows the larger the regulator's budget, the lower the rate of mining fatalities.
  • Minor changes to existing health and safety levies could fund such a new regulator.

PRC families' lawyer Nicholas Davidson, QC.

  • The Pike River Mine families had recently asked themselves whether it was "time to let go'" but remained determined to get their men back.
  • Since the police handed the mine over to the company receivers 14 months ago, no one had carried responsibility for recovering the remains of the 29 victims.
  • The families had seen footage of a body lying deep underground, which steeled their resolve to get their loved ones home. Their patience had been well and truly tried.

PRC families' lawyer Jessica Mills.

  • Things wrong from the inception of the mine.
  • Poor geological knowledge, and delays meant the mine was running out of time before coal had even been reached.
  • The ventilation shaft and pre-drainage methane regime were inadequate and unsuitable machinery was purchased.
  • The underground fan was commissioned before a risk assessment, and a second escape way, tube bundling gas system and fresh air base were not prioritised.
  • No external agency had questioned the mine design, which was constantly changing, and the inspectors seemed to be "powerless bystanders''.
  • The board expected senior managers to create a safe mine, but failed to check this happened
  • Mine managers kept turning over, and Whittall deferred to manager Doug White.
  • By late 2010, the only option would have been to stop Pike River extracting coal, but no one had the resolve to do so.

PRC former health and safety manager Neville Rockhouse's lawyer James Rapley.

  • Mines should not be allowed to operate until key safety plans had been approved by independent regulators.
  • Many well-intentioned people recognised there were problems at the mine, including the second escape way.
  • On almost every occasion it was decided the situation was far from satisfactory but the mine would continue operating. At no point was it ever suggested that work would stop.
  • A mine should not be allowed to operate until key plans have been developed, filed and approved by the DoL.
  • At the beginning almost everyone had the right safety attitude, but as time went by attitudes changed due to production issues.
  • Whittall and the PRC directors accepted no blame or responsibility for the disaster.
  • Rockhouse had been bullied and intimidated by Whittall and that was a contributing factor to the tragedy.
  • Supports a return to check inspectors.

Lawyer for PRC directors and managers, Stacey Shortall.

  • Pike River had been years in the making, and it had been chief executive Gordon Ward's "baby" before Whittall joined.
  • Ward, who now lives in Australia, and other former directors (Tony Radford, Arun Jagatramka and Dipak Agarwalla) had remained silent since the disaster.
  • Her clients (former directors John Dow, Ray Meyer, Stuart Nattrass and managers Peter Whittall, Steve Ellis and Rod Ridl) had fronted, and extended their genuine and heartfelt sympathy.
  • Only six of the 15 people in senior management roles had made submissions to the commission, and only two of 32 experts engaged by the company had appeared
  • The mine had been planned before her clients became directors or managers, with the aid of a raft of experts upon whom they relied.
  • No certainty as to what caused the mine to explode, or where the blast had occurred.
  • No conclusive evidence that something the men did, or did not do, had caused the disaster. One man underground may have been responsible.
  • Fan manufacturer Flakt Woods proposed putting the main fan underground, and the DoL did not object.
  • Consultants URS did not query the second vertical escapeway, and tunnel contractors McDonnell Dowell never raised concerns about its men working in a mine with a shaft as a means of escape.
  • The DoL, under fire itself and on the defensive, had gone on the offensive and charged Whittall.
  • Whittall was the "fall guy"', who had moved to the Wellington office nine months before the disaster.
  • Admitted there were shortcomings in Pike River Coal's systems and information "fell through the cracks".
  • The DoL had not found any evidence that managers knew gas sensors were being tampered with underground.


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