Safety plan failed to consider explosion

Pike River health and safety manager Neville Rockhouse - whose son Ben died underground - conceded under cross-examination today that the mine's safety plans simply did not consider that it might explode.

Cross examined by EPMU lawyer Nigel Hampton QC, Mr Rockhouse said the new fresh air base deeper inside the mine would be no use if the fan tripped up.

"I didn't expect the mine to blow up,'' Mr Rockhouse said.

"That's the repeated theme,'' Mr Hampton said. "We heard it from Mr White you didn't plan for that occurrence. Is that the general philosophy through management? Did nobody write into these plans the fact an explosion might occur?''

Mr Rockhouse: "No''.

Mr Rockhouse also spoke extensively about his concerns over the second egress up the ventilation shaft, and said after failing to win around boss Peter Whittall, he was convinced the Department of Labour would force management to create another way out of the mine in the event of a fire.

To his shock, inspector Kevin Poynter agreed the ladder was adequate.

"I could not believe it.''

A risk assessment, and Mines Rescue, found the shaft was not suitable for escape, but Mr Whittall "failed'' to sign off on that report, he said.

Mr Rockhouse also said concerns from the men underground had not been reaching him.

He had argued with son Daniel as a result, and was upset Daniel had not told him about unsafe incidents.Daniel had felt peer-pressured not to tell him, he said, and was concerned it would ruin his father's career.

After the blast, he told his son to go to the police: "we have to learn from this''.

Things got better before the explosion, when general manager Doug White was employed, he said.

Former EPMU organiser Matt Winter, in written evidence, said Mr White was starting to make some positive changes.

Mr Rockhouse said in early 2010 he had been getting ready to resign as he did not have enough staff for first class systems, but Mr White was the light at the end of the tunnel.

Mr Rockhouse said he was not aware the air and phone had been disconnected at the decommissioned air base, which son Daniel staggered to. The phone should have been connected.

Mr Hampton twice asked why the safety manager had not been aware they had been disconnected.

Sometimes things were moved and paper work not filled in, Mr Rockhouse said.

"It was your responsibility,'' Mr Hampton said prompting Commissioner, Justice Graham Panckhurt to intervene and say Mines Rescue carried out such audits.

"I apologise,'' Mr Hampton said, bowing his head to the families in court.

The hearing continues.

- Greymouth Star

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