Death prompts plea for better gold-site safety

Little boy’s drowning at Hokitika mine spurs coroner to urge improved industry standards

Photo / File
Photo / File

A coroner is calling for better safety standards at gold mining sites after the death of a 9-year-old boy.

In August 2012, Mark Bowes took his two children, Tayne and Keira Bowes, to the goldmine in Hokitika, where he worked to check a water pump.

Mr Bowes later lost control of his vehicle after he accidentally left the track and ended up on a loose rock and shale slope. The vehicle landed upside down in a dredge pond, killing Tayne.

Police pulled 8-year-old Keira up from the submerged wreckage after 90 minutes in the freezing water, where she had managed to breathe through a small air pocket in the back of the vehicle.

In his findings yesterday coroner Richard McElrea ruled Tayne had drowned.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment did not lay any health and safety charges.

But Mr McElrea said the accident highlighted the importance of complying with health and safety codes for surface mining.

There was no embankment on site to prevent Mr Bowes' vehicle from leaving the vehicle track, Mr McElrea said.

A perimeter embankment was accepted as industry practice.

"An adequately constructed bund of the type health and safety observed on other mine sites would have probably deflected the vehicle or prevented it from leaving the vehicle track. There is no evidence of excessive speed."

The circumstances highlighted the issue of children being taken on to industrial sites, as well as inadequate lighting.

There was no lighting on site on the evening the accident occurred, Mr McElrea said. "The only lighting at the scene ... [was] the vehicle headlights."

The owner of the mining operation accepted installing spotlights on vehicles would be a worthwhile outcome and "would be reasonably simple" to do.

Four days after the incident, Mr Bowes appeared to have trouble with his memory of the event, and an MRI scan showed he had a malignant intrinsic brain tumour, which has since been treated.

Mr McElrea said this might have contributed to the crash. "It may have affected his ability to work out close distance and space that contributed to the crash."

Mr McElrea called on Worksafe NZ to highlight to the industry the lessons learned from the incident and the need to improve design and policy standards.

Mr Bowes was interviewed by police after the accident but was never charged.

At the inquest, he asked why his daughter had been left trapped in the air pocket for almost two hours.

Mr McElrea said that in his assessment the police actions had been "entirely appropriate".

- additional reporting: Greymouth Star


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