Spring Creek 'dumbed down' mining standards - MP

By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News

Solid Energy is largely to blame for the "dumbing down'' of mining industry standards that allowed the Pike River disaster to happen, West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor says.

"The genesis of this whole disaster, and the dumbing down of standards across the mining industry, were promoted and pushed by Solid Energy as the single biggest underground miner in the country off the back of a government that was determined to deregulate everything from housing, to mining, to electricity in the 1990s,'' Mr O'Connor said.

"Some of those ministers are still in the current National government and share the responsibility.''

When Labour was in power, its ministers had been convinced by officials who provided the same "misleading information'' about mine safety standards, he said.

Solid Energy had worked to dismiss the knowledge and influence of the unions, and the experience and wisdom of long-standing underground miners.

"As the single largest underground coal mining company working through the 90s and into the 2000s, they worked directly with the Department of Labour to accept these inadequate, inferior and dangerous standards

"They were very much part of the whole destruction of coal mining safety and standards through the 90s, as the report on Spring Creek Mine, and the actions at Stockton, have obviously shown.''

Both mines had had safety problems using standards Solid Energy had been instrumental in downgrading, he said.

Under current chief executive Don Elder Solid Energy had spent millions at Spring Creek and Stockton to upgrade safety.

The Royal Commission into the Pike River Mine disaster had produced a comprehensive report and its recommendations were no surprise, Mr O'Connor said.

Solid Energy's general manager of communications Vicki Blyth said she was shocked by Mr O'Connor's comments.

"It's appalling to suggest that Solid Energy is in any way to blame for what happened at Pike River.''

Ms Blyth said Solid Energy had benchmarked itself against international best practice for some time. It had made submissions to the previous review of mining regulations.

"That's what we submitted to the Royal Commission. We fully support the recommendations and the commission's proposals.''

Dr Elder released a statement today saying the commission's report was an important milestone for the families, friends and colleagues of the men who had died and for everyone who worked in the mining industry.

"We hope that the report can go a long way to bringing clarity and closure for the many people who have been deeply affected by this tragedy.''

The Royal Commission's recommendations would put in place standards and expectations for mining and workplace safety that Solid Energy had already targeted for itself and made major progress towards over the last three years, he said. Solid Energy was always aiming for continuous improvement.

"Underground mining has a future in New Zealand but `safety first' is not negotiable, and technical and economic challenges remain significant.''

Despite Pike River Coal's public claims at the time, it was now apparent the company was never representative of the industry's approach to health and safety, Dr Elder said.

"The recommendations, if implemented appropriately and effectively, will greatly improve confidence in the regulatory framework, which can only be good for everyone who works in the industry. Solid Energy commits to participate constructively and openly in the process to implement the Royal Commission's recommendations.''

Solid Energy bought the assets of Pike River Coal Limited (in receivership) in mid-2012. There was extensive work to do over a number of years before it would know whether there was a credible option for safe, economically viable mining in the coalfield, Dr Elder said.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 22 Sep 2014 15:01:18 Processing Time: 745ms