Pike River safety manager resigned twice

By Hayden Donnell

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

The man in charge of safety at the Pike River mine twice handed in his resignation after enduring extreme pressure, an inquiry has heard.

Former Pike River safety training coordinator Adrian Couchman is giving evidence to a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the deaths of 29 men in the West Coast mine disaster.

He said the safety and training department at Pike River was under resourced and had little "buy in" from other mine departments.

Safety manager Neville Rockhouse was under extreme pressure - once returning from a senior management meeting grey in the face, he said.

He claimed Mr Rockhouse had twice tried to hand in his resignation, but had reversed his decision both times.

"He resigned twice. Physically handed his notice in. As I understand it he was talked out of it by various managers and friends and family."

Mr Couchman said Mr Rockhouse was working long hours.

He often sent emails out on Sundays and as late as 10pm at night, he said.

Safety reports unsigned

Underground miners refused to sign off safety reports made before a deadly explosion ripped through the Pike River mine, an inquiry has heard.

Former Pike River safety training coordinator Adrian Couchman is giving evidence to a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the deaths of 29 men in the West Coast mine disaster last year.

He said "toolbox talks", which allowed miners to address safety concerns with their bosses, were routinely not passed on to safety managers.

In some cases, miners refused to sign reports produced after the talks, he said.

"Some of the miners refusing to sign those documents believing that it was going to commit them to something."

Mr Couchman said he would often have to resort to "badgering" under managers inside the mine to check they had complied with safety improvements recommended in toolbox talks.

The Pike River engineering department was particularly reluctant to work with the safety team and virtually never sent in incident reports, he said.

"We had very little buy in into safety or to training from the engineering department. They said they didn't have any time."

Earlier, Mr Couchman revealed trainee miners had voiced concerns about safety practices inside the Pike River mine.

They had told him the safety procedures they learnt during their training and induction were not always practiced underground, he said.

Former CEO refuses to appear

Meanwhile, the former chief executive of Pike River Coal has been criticised for refusing to appear at the Greymouth District Court hearings.

The final phase of the inquiry, which has focused on what happened in the lead up to the series of blasts in the West Coast coal mine in November last year which killed 29 men, resumes today.

Former chairman John Dow will make his first appearance later this week, as the focus of the inquiry turns to the company's management structures and systems prior to the fatal explosions.

The mine's former safety and training manager, Neville Rockhouse, former safety training coordinator, Adrian Couchman, and Albert Houlden from mine contractor McConnell Dowell are also to take the stand.

Meanwhile Gordon Ward, who was the chief executive up until October last year, less than two months before the tragedy, will not be coming over from Australia for the hearings.

Sources represented at the inquiry, who did not want to be named, told Radio New Zealand Mr Ward must have set up many of the company's systems and made many of its financial decisions.

While he would not have made any mining decisions, his absence leaves a hole in the inquiry as he must hold information into what went wrong in the mine, they said.
The commission said it asked Mr Ward to appear, but he declined, and it can not compel a person living overseas to appear.

- Herald Online

- NZ Herald

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