Pike River miners exposed to 'unacceptable risk'

07:13, Nov 05 2012
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Part of the Royal Commission report on the Pike River coal mine tragedy.
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Part of the Royal Commission report on the Pike River coal mine tragedy.
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Part of the Royal Commission report on the Pike River coal mine tragedy.
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Family members of the Pike River mine victims arrive for their briefing on the Royal Commission finding into the disaster.
John Key
Prime Minister John Key responds to the report.
John Key
Prime Minister John Key responds to the report.
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Minister Gerry Brownlee enters the meeting.
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Family members of the Pike River mine victims arrive for their briefing on the Royal Commission finding into the disaster.
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Family members of the Pike River mine leave a briefing on the Royal Commission finding into the disaster.
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Olivia Monk lost her brother in the mine and misses him every day.
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Lynne Sims who lost her son in the mine.
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Nicholas Davidson, QC, left, and Bernie Monk talk post briefing.

Pike River Coal bosses dispute royal commission criticisms they failed to ensure the safety of mine workers prior to the November 2010 blast that killed 29 men.

A damning report released today stated 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. It also recommends sweeping changes after finding the Department of Labour failed.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson resigned from the portfolio immediately after the Royal Commission's report was released.


‘‘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 report said.

It singled out former chairman, John Dow, saying he assumed things were under control ‘‘unless told otherwise’’, which was against good governance responsibilities.

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

However, the lawyer for some former Pike board members, including Dow, and former chief executive Peter Whittall, Stacey Shortall, said her clients strongly disagreed with those findings.

‘‘They maintain they acted appropriately.’’

Also, they had fronted up and given evidence to the inquiry to help it improve mining safety, knowing that it could expose them to the risk of prosecution, she said.

They expressed ``genuine and heartfelt sympathy’’ for the families’ loss of loved ones.

Shortall, who was speaking from New York, said she was yet to fully review the report to see whether it potentially prejudiced Whittall’s defence against 12 charges of health and safety failures regarding the November 2010 tragedy.

In September, his legal team sought a judicial review in the High Court in Wellington to force the royal commission to release its report to them prior to being made public so they could check if any adverse findings needed suppression because they prejudiced his court case.

They also sought to reconvene the inquiry hearings to allow cross-examination of three former Pike managers who gave statements after the public hearings finished but their appeal failed.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said Whittall, who pleaded not guilty to the charges last month, had to be held accountable “but standing next to him should be [former Pike chief executive] Gordon Ward”.

Ward, named `Mr Pike’ during the inquiry, was involved with the mine for more than a decade and was its chief executive from May 2007 until seven weeks before the fatal 2010 explosion, when Whittall took over.

He refused to give written or verbal evidence to the royal commission and was unable to be forced because he was based on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Kokshoorn called on the Government to move fast on its promise to act on recommendations contained in the report.
“The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.''

“[The report] won’t bring our loved ones back but it is certainly one we must learn from. ‘’

He said Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson’s resignation from her post was “appropriate’’.


Wilkinson resigned as Labour Minister, effective immediately, following the release of the royal commission's report.

"The Pike River Mine tragedy of 19 November, 2010, happened on my watch as Minister of Labour," she said.

"While reports from the former Department of Labour did not advise me of concerns about their ability to administer the health and safety legislation, 29 men lost their lives in this tragedy.

"I feel it is the right and honourable thing to do [to stand down]."

About six minutes after the announcement she was standing down from the portfolio, Acting Labour Minister Chris Finlayson put out a statement welcoming the release of the royal commission report.

"I believe it is our duty to the 29 miners who died and their families to oversee the implementation of the royal commission's recommendations," he said.

Prime Minister John Key said Wilkinson's decision to resign was  a personal decision in response to the magnitude of the tragedy. ‘‘It is the honourable thing to do. I considered it proper for me to accept her resignation from the Labour portfolio."


In the last two days before the explosion, there were 21 reports of methane levels reaching explosive volumes and 27 reports of lesser, but still potentially dangerous, volumes, the report said.

"The reports of excess methane continued up to the very morning of the tragedy. The warnings were not heeded."

It also found Pike River began operating the West Coast mine before its health and safety systems were adequate.

Drainage and ventilation systems "could not cope" with everything the company was trying to do, such as driving roadways through coal, drilling ahead into the coal seam and extracting coal by hydro mining.

The company had only one mine which was its sole revenue source and had to continually borrow to keep operations going.

Pike River's initial estimates the mine would produce more than a million tonnes of coal a year by 2008 were unrealistic; it had only shipped a total of 42,000 tonnes.

The commission also found the company's board of directors did not ensure health and safety was being properly managed and its executive managers did not properly assess the "unacceptable risks" workers were exposed to.

"Mining should have stopped until the risks could be properly managed."

The Department of Labour should have prohibited the mine from operating until adequate systems were in place.

It "assumed" Pike River was complying with the law "even though there was ample evidence to the contrary".


Pike memorial
The granite stone memorial for the Pike River mine disaster victims.
Pike memorial
ONE YEAR ON: Prime Minister John Key unveils the Rose Garden memorial.
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Family members of the Pike River victims at the unveiling of the memorial.
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ONE YEAR ON: Family members of the Pike River victims at the unveiling of the memorial.
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ONE YEAR ON: Family members of the Pike River victims at the unveiling of the memorial.
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ONE YEAR ON: A young mourner at the service.
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ONE YEAR ON: A boy takes comfort in his mother's arms.
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ONE YEAR ON: Prime Minister John Key takes a moment.
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ONE YEAR ON: Prime Minister John Key walks past the display of the helmets of the 29 men who still lie in the Pike River coalmine.
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Names of the 29 men on the memorial, which was uncovered on Saturday.
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ONE YEAR ON: The identification tags of the men who died.
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ONE YEAR ON: Tracy Cameron embraces her husband Neville Rockhouse after singing a moving tribute to her dead stepson Benjamin Rockhouse, 21.
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ONE YEAR ON: The crowd during the minute's silence at the memorial service.

The Prime Minister apologised to the families of the 29 lost miners. He said the royal commission makes it clear fault lies with Pike River Coal.

"Because it did not follow good management and best practice principles, its health and safety systems were inadequate."

But he admitted the royal commission found the regulatory environment was not effective over a long period of time.

"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, he said.

He said there was no fresh evidence of a safe and credible plan to re-enter the mine to retrieve the miners' remains.


The Pike River coalmine exploded on November 19, 2010, killing 29 men.

But for days New Zealand held out hope that they would be pulled out alive from the mine, deep in the Paparoa Range, 40 kilometres north of Greymouth.

Whittall told the media that the men could be sitting around an open pipe breathing fresh air while waiting for rescue.

But when the mine exploded a second time five days after the first, all hope of rescue was lost.

It was New Zealand's worst mining disaster in 96 years.

Key promised everything would be done to bring the men home. 


Bernie Monk
LONG WALK: Bernie Monk arrives for the start of the final day of hearings into the Pike River Coal mine tragedy.
Nicholas Davidson, QC, and families
FINAL PHASE: Nicholas Davidson, QC, and victims families arrive on Monday morning.
Simon Moore
EVIDENCE: Simon Moore, representing New Zealand Police, gives a submission at Monday's hearing.
Garth Gallaway
FINAL WORDS: Garth Gallaway gives a final submission for the New Zealand Mines Rescue Service.
Graham Panckhurst
PANEL: Commissioner Graham Panckhurst is sitting with Stewart Bell and David Henry.
Chris Duggan
CHRIS DUGGAN: 31, Greymouth.
Malcolm Campbell
MALCOLM CAMPBELL: 25, Greymouth. Was due to marry Kiwi fiancee Amanda on December 18. Originally from St Andrews in Fife, Scotland.
Pete Rodger
PETE RODGER: 40, Greymouth. From Perth, Scotland, and lived in New Zealand with his girlfriend.
Ben Rockhouse
BEN ROCKHOUSE: 21, Greymouth. The younger brother of coal miner Daniel Rockhouse, 24, who was one of only two men to escape the mine.
Josh Ufer
JOSH UFER: 25, Middlemount, Queensland, Australia. Ufer's fiancee, Rachelle Weaver, is three months pregnant.
Milton Osborne
MILTON OSBORNE: 54, Ngahere. A Grey District councillor and contractor at the Pike River mine.
Missing miner Brendon Palmer
BRENDON PALMER: 27, Cobden. Second-generation miner - his father Marty also works at the Pike River Mine.
missing miner Blair Sims
BLAIR SIMS: 28, Greymouth. Married with two young children. Was West Coast rugby league player of the year for the past two years.
Michael Mony, missing miner
MICHAEL MONK: 23, Greymouth. Rugby rep for the West Coast. Had a long-term girlfriend. Son of hotelier Bernie Monk and West Coast netball rep and coach Cath Monk.
missing miner Zen Drew
ZEN DREW: 21, Greymouth.
missing miner Conrad Adams
CONRAD ADAMS: 43, Greymouth.
Jacobus Albertus Jonker
JACOBUS ALBERTUS JONKER: 47, Cobden, South Africa.
Stuart Mudge
STUART MUDGE: 31, Runanga. Orginally from Whangarei. His dad said working in the mine gave Stuart an "outlet for his energy".
David Mark Hoggart
John Leonard Hale
JOHN LEONARD HALE: 45, Ruatapu. Lived in neighbouring house to partner Brenda Rackley on the outskirts of Hokitika. Hale was a contractor for Chris Yeats Builders.
Andrew David Hurren
ANDREW DAVID HURREN: 32, Hokitika. A keen hunter and fisherman, known as Huck to his friends.
Daniel Thomas Herk
DANIEL THOMAS HERK: 36, Runanga. Grew up between Greymouth and Hokitika and has done a lot of mine work, his grandfather says.
Glen Peter Cruse
GLEN PETER CRUSE: 35, Cobden. Grew up in Greymouth. Leaves a partner and two children.
Joseph Ray Dunbar
JOSEPH RAY DUNBAR: 17, Greymouth. The youngest of the miners. The day of the explosion was his first day working underground.
Kane Barry Nieper
KANE BARRY NIEPER: 33, Greymouth. Nieper was married with a young family.
Riki Steve Keane
RIKI STEVE KEANE: 28, Greymouth. First five-eighth for the Blaketown Rugby Football Club, one of three club members to perish in the mine.
Keith Thomas Valli
KEITH THOMAS VALLI: 62, Winton. The oldest of the 29 miners.
Peter O'Neill
PETER O'NEILL: 55, Runanga. Member of a well known mining family and keen lawn bowler.
Richard Bennett Holling
RICHARD BENNETT HOLLING: 41, Blackball. Grew up in Christchurch and is the first of his family to go down a mine.
Samuel Peter Mackie
Terry David Kitchin
TERRY DAVID KITCHIN: 41, Rununga. Has three children under the age of 10.
William John Joynson
WILLIAM JOHN JOYNSON: 49, Dunollie, Australia. An experienced underground miner who worked for many years in the Burgowan mines at Howard, near Bundaberg. His wife and two children live in Queensland.
 Allan John Dixon, 59, Runanga, miner
ALAN JOHN DIXON: 59, Runanga. Leaves a partner and two sons.
Francis Skiddy Marden