Imagine if they had the same testing in place almost nine years ago about the atmosphere in the Pike River coal mine on the West Coast as they expect today.

That's the testing that has prevented a team going into the mine today - too much oxygen, mix that with methane, and you'd have the lethal mix that lead to the deaths of 29 miners.

It's costing us $36 million to arrive at the conclusion that mines are unpredictable and that Pike River was one stinking workplace that should never have seen human beings being sent deep into that dark tunnel day after day.


The Government minister with the unenviable job of relaying the news to the families that it's not safe to go in at the moment is Andrew Little.

He'll be with Jacinda Ardern on the coast today to console the families, and he more than most will be full of consolation because in 2010 he was the national secretary of the union the miners belonged to.

Just after the explosion he said publicly there was nothing unusual about Pike River or the mine that they were concerned with, and never raised any issues with Pike River Coal. The local MP and now minister Damien O'Connor was of a similar view and so too was the Government of the time.

29 crosses leading up to the Pike River mine near Greymouth. Photo / Alan Gibson
29 crosses leading up to the Pike River mine near Greymouth. Photo / Alan Gibson

It's easy with hindsight to say they were all wrong and it's accepted that mines are volatile places.

But they've all learnt and the Key government put in place the most stringent workplace health and safety laws that could never see a repeat of Pike River.

The law's mantra, that everyone who goes to work should come home healthy and safe, is applied to a degree that ensures we now live in a cotton wool environment.

And to a more or lesser extent, we're all affected by it even though we may not be aware of it.

But if you're in an audience and you're listening to the guest speaker you could be forgiven for having a bit of Winston Peters shuteye, given the amount of health and safety material that they're required to plough through before the nub of the address begins.


And if you've ever wondered, as most of us do, about the high cost of housing, it's the health and safety law that adds significantly to it.

For example it requires a scaffold, it would seem on anything above head height, and don't even think about doing up a bathroom, particularly if you live in an old house.

You'll have to replace the glass windows with safety glass, no matter what size the pane is and regardless of the fact that no-one's fallen through it in more than a century.

For Pike River families all of this is cold comfort.

But generously that have accepted today's decision not to go into the mine, enough lives have been lost they say.