Peter Whittall takes issue with Pike River report
By Laura Frykberg
The man in charge of the Pike River Mine when it blew up two years ago has taken issue with parts of the official report into the disaster.
Peter Whittall's comments come at the end of a day in which the country's mine safety regime was savaged by the Royal Commission’s report into the explosion.
The Prime Minister has also apologised to the families of the 29 men who perished at the coal mine.
The commission found methane gas levels were so high it could have exploded 21 times in the 48 days before it actually did.
Flowers lie in memory of the 29 men who lost their lives – lives the commission has found could have been saved.
“The company, while it had primary responsibility, failed to do its job properly, and then the Department of Labour, who also had responsibility in terms of administering the health and safety law in New Zealand, also failed,” says John Key.
The commission found "the Department of Labour assumed Pike was complying with the law, even though there was ample evidence to the contrary”.
“The department should have prohibited Pike from operating the mine until its health and safety were adequate," reads the report. It says "the sad reality is their health and safety performance in the mining industry has been so poor that the department lost industry worker confidence”.
It has led to Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson resigning the portfolio, although she's staying on in Cabinet.
But the miners’ union says Ms Wilkinson is not the only one at fault.
“We have no complaints that the minister in recent times was making the right moves,” says EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O’Donnell. “The real tragedy is when previous governments have been asleep at the wheel, quite frankly.”
Today's report makes 16 recommendations, including the introduction of a new Crown agency for health and safety, appropriate training for coal mine inspectors and the need for regulators to consider health and safety before permits are issued.
“The Government will be broadly accepting all of the recommendations and will be working to implement them as quickly as possible,” says Mr Key.
The commission also highlighted that enormous pressure to produce coal led workers to ignore safety devices on mining machinery.
The Pike River board too is heavily criticised. It says management had "a culture of production before safety at Pike River, and as a result signs of the risk of an explosion were either not noticed or not responded to”.
Mining tragedies in New Zealand have happened in every generation, and the commission says lessons must be learnt from this latest one.
Pike River Coal's former chief executive, Mr Whittall, and some company directors have responded to the report with sympathy for the families. They do agree with some of the findings, but don't accept the criticism that the company put profits above safety.