Editorial: Catalogue of failings simply staggering

WARWICK RASMUSSEN
Last updated 12:00 07/11/2012

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OPINION: It was never going to be easy reading.

But the 400-page report from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the November 2010 Pike River mining disaster that killed 29 men went far beyond an uncomfortable read.

It appeared that every shortcut that could be taken and every blind eye that could be turned was turned when it came to safety at the mine.

How far the failings went was simply staggering.

Successive governments, via the Department of Labour, let safety standards slip over time. The weakening of mine inspection protocols and the gutting of experienced staff members were part of the recipe for disaster.

To point the finger in this case you'd need more than two sets of hands. So many people and so many organisations could have, at multiple stages, stepped in to either fix the problems or at least blow the whistle.

Of course, the company should wear the brunt of it. After all, they went ahead with a mine that was clearly unsafe, even in the planning phase, well before miners were put at risk in the underground, methane-rich environment.

But operations like Pike River don't get built unless they get signed off by government departments, like the Ministry of Economic Development.

What is particularly perplexing is that the Labour Department appears eager to chase down and prosecute businesses and employees who have infringed health and safety rules at the minor end of the spectrum, yet failed to identify and act on a business sector like mining, which has inherent dangers.

Instead of worrying about fining some company because someone fell off a ladder, there were some bigger issues out there that needed addressing.

What's clear from the report is that there have to be more robust systems in place and/or consequences for companies who bend and break the rules. The old saying "safety first" needs to be taken seriously, and not just in the mining sector. Any job that has the potential to put lives at risk needs to sit up and pay attention and re-evaluate its own situation.

Of course it's too late for the men who died and their families, but the report cannot be ignored and shelved without all of the recommendations being taken on board.

ONE MORE THING

Today marks the end of the most expensive political campaign of all-time; the election of the president of the United States of America. The amount of money poured into Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's campaigns is obscene, as was the barrage of negative advertisements in the final weeks. It's an ugly business, with a lot at stake. It's a fascinating, almost theatrical process, but thankfully it's over, for now.

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- Manawatu Standard

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