Safety 'trumped profit', Pike directors say

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 14:21 21/11/2012

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An attempt by former directors of Pike River Coal to shift blame onto their underlings by denying the Royal Commission's findings is "disgraceful", the union which represented workers at the now-defunct mine claims.

Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union claimed the lack of accountability shown by the directors was evidence of the need for creating a corporate manslaughter law "to refocus their minds" on the consequences of their actions.

The commission's report released earlier this month said the company paid too little attention to safety in its drive to produce coal.

In a statement released through their lawyers today, former Pike River directors John Dow, Ray Meyer and Stuart Nattrass said they 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 November 2010 disaster which claimed the lives of 29 men.

Health and safety issues criticised by the commissioners were operational matters that were not passed on to the board despite several opportunities, they said.

Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell claimed the directors were passing the buck and it showed the necessity of mine safety reform.

"For these three men to refuse to accept any responsibility for the 29 men who died under their watch and to then try to sheet home blame to the people below them is simply disgraceful," O'Connell said.

In his view there was no doubt the company put production ahead of safety with several concrete examples in the commission's report.

"The Pike River inquiry heard repeatedly how the company these men ran refused to listen to workers, excluded the union at every opportunity and created a culture where workers learned not to speak out for fear of being disciplined, O'Connell claimed.

The directors' "out-of-touch" comments were an example of why the country needed stronger mining regulations, and well-resourced independent inspectors, he said.

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."

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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 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.

- The Press

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