Mine safety under scrutiny

August 1, 2012

Flames coming out of a ventilation shaft at Pike River

Byron Clark

Questions about the safety of New Zealand mines are being asked after incidents last month. On July 25 a miner was nearly killed by falling coal while installing roof supports in a new tunnel at the Spring Creek mine on the West Coast, near the site of the infamous Pike River mine. Just over a week prior, twenty-eight miners became trapped by a truck engine fire at Newmont Waihi Gold’s Trio mine, in the northern Hauruki district. In that case all the miners were evacuated safely.

Solid Energy, the owners of the Spring Creek mine, have been criticised by mine safety consultant Dave Feickert, who told Radio New Zealand that company is complacent and, at times, arrogant. “I’ve come to the conclusion that they are a company that must raise their game. They claim to be best-practice, they claim to be introducing the Queensland model which is the world’s best - well, not all of it, because they don’t want to have check inspectors. They’ve made these claims and I’m afraid they have just not proven it.”

Back in February, the Department of Labour issued Spring Creek with a prohibition notice following three separate safety incidents related to system breakdowns in safety controls. The notice was lifted two weeks later after the department said it was happy with the company’s response to the incidents.

In the wake of the Wahi fire the union representing miners, the EPMU, also called for the implementation of the Queensland model “One of the key elements of the Queensland model is for workers to elect their own check inspectors to ensure there’s an independent and trusted safety representative on the job to signal the alarm as soon as potential safety hazards arise.” Said assistant national secretary Ged O’Connell.

“We understand the Government is waiting on the Pike River Royal Commission report, but it’s increasingly clear that unless our mine safety standards are brought up to international standards New Zealand’s miners will continue to be put at risk.”

The Huntly East underground coal mine, also owned by Solid Energy was also closed for several days in June. The state owned company is one which the government has earmarked for privatisation.


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