Labour Dept admits Pike River failings

By Laura Mills of the Greymouth Star

Photo / File
Photo / File

The Department of Labour has admitted it could have done better at the Pike River Mine.

Under current legislation, the employer is responsible for providing a safe workplace.

Department of Labour lawyer Kristy McDonald QC told the Royal Commission of Inquiry today (Mon) that the department could have done more to support its inspectors.

She also said it could have taken enforcement action over the lack of a second egress and stone dusting at Pike River. Instead, its inspectors were encouraged to negotiate with the mining company.

The inspectors did not know of the extensive evidence of problems at Pike River, including high methane readings, because the company did not tell them. Even the mine manager was not aware of all of the problems, she said.

At times, the department had only one dedicated mining inspector, and they were not trained to carry out audits.

A new high hazards unit, complete with a chief mines inspector, had been set up since the Pike River disaster, but she noted that changes were in their infancy.

Commissioner David Henry said that setting up the high hazards unit was commendable but he queried whether it should be a completely separate government department.

``I'm not aware that has been considered at all,'' Ms McDonald said.

The department now wants a substantive review of the underground mining legislation, including moving away from the requirement that companies take ``all practicable steps'' to keep staff safe, and replacing it with something more definitive.

It is proposing what it is calling a `three pillars of support' concept more employer responsibilities, more support for worker involvement in health and safety, and an active regulator.

All operators would be required to produce auditable health and safety management systems and emergency plans, and there would be stricter controls on hazards such as methane.

The Ministry of Economic Development would assess permit applications under the Crown Minerals Act, including principal hazard management plans before mining could begin.

Ventilation officers and worker health and safety representatives would be required.

However, the department does want to retain the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

Ms McDonald said the three levels of decision making over risk assessments - a big issue in the days after the deadly explosion - could be streamlined.

The department wants mines to develop emergency response plans, and conduct safety drills underground.

It also wants the mine manager to play a greater role in any future rescue efforts, with the department retaining the right of veto.

It wanted the police to retain the lead role.

Commissioner Stewart Bell suggested the chief mines inspector would have something valuable to contribute, too.

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