Prime Minister John Key is squarely blaming the Pike River
Coal Company for the disaster that killed 29 West Coast
workers two years ago.
But he has accepted some responsibility by the Government
regulator of health and safety, formerly the Department of
Labour, saying it deluded itself it was doing things
"In the end, it's as simple as this," Mr Key said at his
post-Cabinet press conference after the release of the Royal
Commission of Inquiry into the disaster.
"The company completely and utterly failed to protect their
workers. And as a result of that, they were put in undue risk
and an explosion took place that killed people."
If the department had been adopting world's best practice and
keeping up with what was happening in other mining
environments, there would have been different procedures.
"In effect it deluded itself that it was following the right
process when in fact it wasn't."
After the failure to control methane, the explosion on
November 19, 2010 killed 16 miners and 13 contractors.
Mr Key issued a formal apology: "On behalf of the Government
I apologise to the families, friends and loved ones of the
deceased men for the role this lack of regulatory
effectiveness played in the tragedy."
Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson resigned her portfolio
yesterday, but not from the Cabinet. Attorney-General Chris
Finlayson picks it up in an acting capacity. Ms Wilkinson
keeps her conservation portfolio and remains a Cabinet
The Royal Commission slams both the company and the health
and safety regulator of the time, the Department of Labour,
saying the disaster was preventable.
The Department of Labour did not have the focus, capacity or
strategies to ensure that it was meeting its legal
"There were numerous warnings of a potential catastrophe at
Pike River," the report said.
Sources included reports made by underground deputies and
In the 48 days before the explosion there were 21 reports of
methane levels reaching explosive volumes, and 27 reports of
lesser, but potentially dangerous volumes.
"The reports of excess methane continued up to the very
morning of the tragedy. The warnings were not heeded," the
The commission said it could not be definitive "but potential
ignition sources included arcing in the mine electrical
system, a diesel engine over-heating, contraband taken into
the mine, electric motors in the non-restricted part of the
mine and frictional sparking caused by work activities". The
risks increased with the introduction of hydro-mining at
which time the board approved a bonus. It was payable to
workers if a production target was met by a defined date,
after which the bonus reduced progressively each week.
Of the Labour Department, the commission said "the sad
reality is that the Department of Labour's performance in
relation to safety and health in the mining industry has been
so poor, at both the strategic and operations levels, that
the department lost industry and worker confidence."
How the company failed
Hired too few experienced miners to set standards.
An insurance risk survey in July 2010 identifying serious
concerns about hydro-mining hazards was not seen by board.
Warnings about methane levels and poor ventilation ignored.
Decided ventilation shaft could be deemed second exit.
No safety assessment done when hydro-mining introduced.
Bonuses for targets allowed production to override safety
How the government failed
Pike, with no underground experience, was given a permit to
mine with no scrutiny of its health and safety plans.
Department of Labour mining inspectorate was run down to two
inspectors with no training or systems.
Physical inspections made but insufficient information.
DoL ordered improvement in ventilation system at Pike River
but did nothing to enforce it.
Inspector did not shut down mine until second egress formed
when higher risks of hydro-mining began in September 2010.
Relied on trust that Pike was complying with negotiated
health and safety contract.
- Audrey Young, NZ Herald