Deputies sacked before Pike River blast

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The Labour Department report reveals four incidents relating to serious safety breaches at the coalmine. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Labour Department report reveals four incidents relating to serious safety breaches at the coalmine. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Two Pike River Mine deputies were fired for serious safety breaches before the deadly November blast, a Department of Labour report just released reveals.

The Government made public a review of the Department of Labour's interactions with Pike River, which includes a detailed, independent assessment of four incidents at the mine. One concerned ongoing ventilation problems underground.

The report suggests there may have been grounds for prosecuting Pike River Coal long before the November 19 explosion. It also contains a suggestion that workers were not reporting all incidents to management.

On one occasion, the "dead man" switch (a failsafe device) was found to be taped open with a cable tie - "a serious safety breach".

Because the deputy responsible was dismissed, the inspector felt he had paid the price and should not be prosecuted.

The report also say a coal miner climbed up a bolting rig - "a clearly unsafe act" - to make adjustments, catching and injuring his foot in the process.

A report at the time found "there appear to be a number of possible breaches by the company, the injured person and the mine official".

It also found that the deputy was "focused on production and extra metres".

However, mines inspectors decided not to take any further action because the deputy in charge had been dismissed and the company was willing to rectify the breach.

This week's report found: "The inspectors used advice, persuasion and negotiation to good effect, and in almost all circumstances, achieved their safety objectives without recourse to either administrative notices or enforcement action."

The report also details some of the many ignitions underground, focusing on when the tunnel was passing through the Hawea fault, before reaching the coal seam.

The shift log report for November 11, 2008, records four ignitions. It was determined that ventilation had been inadequate.

On December 24, 2008, mines inspector Kevin Poynter noted he had "only received advice of two ignitions".

"I have been told by a number of people now that there were at least 10."

The mine management responded: "Don't know who fed you the information but there was a few ignitions on four shifts that I know of ... if there is more than the supervisors chose not to report then I don't know of them and it is not being investigated."

The report was written by Professor Neil Gunningham, co-director of the National Research Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Regulation at the Australian National University, and senior counsel David Neal.


Read the full report:


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