Who's liable for Pike River? | The Jackal

14 Nov 2011

Who's liable for Pike River?

People who've been keeping up to date with the Pike River mine disaster would have heard that 25 charges have been laid by the Department of Labour againsPike River Coal Ltd (in receivership), former chief executive Peter Whittall and contractor Valley Longwall International.

However there are others equally responsible who should be held to account.

In 1992 National abolished mining check inspectors, workers with the authority to clear a mine if they considered it dangerous, and the mine inspectorate was dismantled in 1998.

Then in 2008 National ignored a Labour Department recommendation that check inspectors be restored in underground mines. This undoubtedly ensured a lack of mine safety at Pike River with disastrous results.

Yesterday, Radio NZ reported:

Appearing before Monday's hearing, Department of Labour health and safety inspector Michael Firmin admitted under questioning that he had no training in auditing an underground mine. 
He said there were only two underground inspectors, one of whom later left, and a contractor was doing some of the inspections for them. 
A report by Australian experts, led by Professor Neil Gunningham, had painted a positive view of the department and lawyers are expected to question those findings as the hearing proceeds over the week.

Clearly an inadequate regime of safety inspections by under trained inspectors increased the likelihood of the disaster occurring. A lack of escape equipment and procedures also meant the workers were unable to escape.

Back in August, the Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson said she would increase the mining inspectorate despite repeatedly denying there was a problem. There is still only one mining inspector with limited powers. This is simply not good enough.