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Opinion: Corporate, Government and departmental manslaughter

Monday 05 Nov 2012 4:03p.m.

Opinion: Corporate, Govt manslaughter

Pike River was a man-made disaster waiting to happen.

And it was assisted and allowed to happen due to corporate, Government and departmental failures.

The Royal Commission makes it clear that the Pike River 29 were let down by corporate negligence, poor legislation, Government restructures, fractured Labour and Economic Development Departmental responsibilities and down-right laziness and poor oversight.

In short – all underground coal mines in NZ should close down until an entire new system of health and safety is implemented.

This Royal Commission is hugely damning; here’s a sample;

“The Dept of Labour should have prohibited Pike from operating the mine until its health and safety systems were adequate.”

“There were numerous warnings of a potential catastrophe at Pike. In the last 48 days before the explosion there were 21 reports of methane levels reaching explosive volumes.”

“There was inadequate oversight of the mine by the health and safety regulator that lacked focus, resourcing and inspection capacity.”

“This was not a case of individual fault, but of departmental failure to resource, manage and adequately support a diminished mining inspectorate.”

“The Pike River tragedy was preventable but regulatory reforms are urgently needed to reduce the likelihood of further tragedies.”

The genesis of this tragedy started in 1992 when National watered down health and safety rules in the Department of Labour.

Pike’s fate was sealed that day perhaps.

In 1997, Pike a new company, with no underground coal mining experience was able to obtain a permit to develop the mine, with no scrutiny of its initial plans for meeting health and safety requirements, and little ongoing scrutiny.

The report makes it clear that the ‘sad reality is that the Dept of Labour’s performance in relation to health and safety in the mining industry has been so poor, at both the strategic and operational levels, that the Department has lost industry and worker confidence.”

But this is not just a report into the Labour Department.

It makes it clear Pike’s management turned a blind eye to the serious methane problems. In turn the Board either didn’t know or took a lacklustre approach to it all. Coal production was king – and bonuses were offered to get the coal out. Pike was behind schedule, they were borrowing money – they needed results. The behaviour of the miners was ‘reckless’ and they bypassed safety devices on mining machinery regardless of the presence of methane. It seems safety was secondary. And it clearly was.

This is a debacle of monumental proportions and massive change is necessary, at both departmental and Government level. But someone and perhaps many people and organisations need to be held to account.

Corporate manslaughter should not be out of the question.

But the Dept of Labour can’t lay the charges. Its credibility is shot. The department should be charged for its woeful and incompetent behaviour.

It should be closed down. And like the recommendations say – a new agency focussing on health and safety, established.

This is a dark day for mining, for Pike River Coal, for the Dept of Labour and for successive Governments.

They collectively let down 29 men and their families. Accountability should be next. It’s a must. Only then can these men be laid to rest.

 
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