Safety trumped profit, Pike directors say

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 10:41 21/11/2012

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The former directors of Pike River Coal have hit out at the royal commission's belief that the company put profits ahead of safety.

In a statement released through their lawyers today, John Dow, Ray Meyer and Stuart Nattrass strongly disagreed with the commission's findings and its decision not to allow them the chance to reply to late-called witnesses at the hearings into the disaster which claimed the lives of 29 men.

The commission's damning report on both the company's board and management was released earlier this month. It said the company's directors and executive managers paid insufficient attention to health and safety ''and exposed the company's workers to unacceptable risk'' in their drive to produce coal.

The company should have stopped mining, which began only two months before the explosion, until all the risks were properly managed, the report said.

''It is the commission's view that even though the company was operating in a known high-hazard industry, the board of directors did not ensure that health and safety was being properly managed and the executive did not properly assess the health and safety risks that the workers were facing.''

The directors' statement said the suggestion that profit was put ahead of safety at the mine was ''conjecture'' and clashed with  the evidence put to the commission.

''Despite the considerable amount of evidence made available to it, its report does not identify any particular circumstances, or any documents, in which a safety requirement was not met for financial reasons or because it might have impacted on production.''

Contrary to the commission's report, safety and training manager Neville Rockhouse, who was one of the first managers appointed by Pike River, started with a consultant's comprehensive health and safety manual, rather than ''a blank sheet of paper'', the directors said.

That appointment underscored the company's commitment to worker safety, they said, and the Rockhouse's experience gave them ''considerable comfort'' that safety was being adequately managed.

Parts of the safety regime criticised by the commission had been managerial matters that had not been taken to the board despite opportunities to do so, they said.

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- Stuff

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