Relief as miners emerge safely (+video)

By Kiri Gillespie

Great relief has been expressed at the safe retrieval of 28 miners trapped underground in Waihi but already concern has been raised at mining safety regulations.

The miners were stuck in refuge chambers in Newmont Waihi Gold's Trio mine for seven hours after a truck caught fire yesterday morning.

They were all evacuated safely, with one man treated for smoke inhalation.

Labour's spokesperson for health and safety, Darien Fenton, said the incident was a "stark reminder" that underground mining remained highly dangerous, and the Government should make improving safety regulations a priority.

While Mr Fenton said it was a great relief that all miners emerged safely, New Zealand still had essentially the same mine safety regime as it did before the Pike River Mine tragedy.

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"Unlike Pike River, the health and safety systems appear to have worked well at the Waihi Gold Mine, although High Hazards Unit inspectors were not due to arrive at the scene until this afternoon," Mr Fenton said.

"While loss of life and injury has thankfully been avoided today, New Zealand's underground miners will continue to be put at risk until the Government brings our safety regulations up to international standards."

Colleen Spalding, spokeswoman for Waihi's Distressed Residents Action Team, said they were pleased the men were rescued but remained concerned about underground mining in Waihi.

"We are very pleased that their rescue procedures worked well. For that we are grateful but there are people who have concerns that some explosions occurring in the ground in the future," Ms Spalding said. "It just reminds you that this is a big industrial site and there are dangers. People go down there for mine tours and have a look around. It's lucky that was not going on at the time."

Catherine Delahunty, Green Party MP for environment and mining, said last night there would be discussion about miners' safety and risk factors but the focus for now was on the families of the men involved.

"I was just so relieved to hear they managed to get everyone out," she said. "There are things more important than the issues of debate about mining in Waihi.

"With Pike we have all seen some real serious tragedy, no one wanted that today. Later we will discuss issues around causes and risks to miners in mines. Today was a day for the Waihi community."

Ms Delahunty has been involved with the residents' action group in opposing resource consent applications made by Newmont to extend mining operating hours.

In 2010, 29 miners died at the Pike River Mine as they worked collecting coal when an explosion happened. Two men walked out and survived. A second explosion days later is believed to have killed the remaining men inside.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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