Pike River families push for reforms of health, safety

Last updated 05:00 02/12/2012

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Families of the Pike River 29 are demanding the Government implement of all 16 recommendations made by a royal commission of inquiry.

That includes calls for a standalone Crown body to focus solely on occupational safety and health (Osh) - the first recommendation in the commission's report and the one which Prime Minister John Key says needs "further investigation".

Anna Osborne - whose husband, Milton Osborne, died in the November 19, 2010, mine blast - said the commission had made its reform proposals for a reason.

"Those recommendations were made because of the bloody tragedy . . . and we know from past history, that history does repeat itself," Osborne said.

"Osh is just too big. I think we do need a totally independent organisation that physically looks at and after the high-hazard industries out there . . . somebody with the big teeth and balls to make sure that things are in place and up to standard.

"[It must be a body to ensure] that nothing is signed off, nothing happens and not a foot is put into that workplace until the workers' health and safety has been taken seriously."

Carol Rose, who lost her 31-year-old son Stuart Mudge in the tragedy, added: "I am going to be personally pushing to make sure that the Government implements the 16 recommendations. That is the legacy for our guys, really."

The commission wrote of the country's health and safety standards and monitoring: "This, sadly, is the 12th commission of inquiry into coal mining disasters in New Zealand.

"This suggests that as a country we fail to learn from the past. New Zealand needs to make urgent legislative, structural and additional changes if future tragedies are to be avoided."

West Coast-based Green Party MP Kevin Hague, who has worked alongside some family members of the Pike River 29, said he was disappointed in the Government's reluctance to embrace the commission's call for a new body to oversee Osh in New Zealand.

He said that recommendation was so vital that it should be introduced "without delay or modification".

"There is a reason why that was the first recommendation in the commission's report, the fact that this incredibly important function of Government as the regulator got lost in the Department of Labour, which was largely focused on other things," Hague said.

Recent restructuring has seen Osh responsibilities being handed to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (Mobie) - a new super-ministry featuring the former Department of Building and Housing, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Department of Labour and the Ministry of Science and Innovation.

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Hague said that made it even more likely nothing will done about Osh.

"Well it is now inside Mobie, which is 10 times more focused on other things. So the risks of it being lost are much greater now in this much bigger agency."

Like the families, Hague said he was committed to ensuring the Government implemented all 16 of the commission's recommendations; including a standalone body to monitor Osh issues.

"I am committed to hanging in there for the long haul and try to keep shooting it home to them."

- Sunday Star Times

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