No coal while gas levels stay up
Coal extraction from Huntly East Mine remains suspended today because of Labour Department safety concerns, but the owners remain adamant it is safe.
But its workers think differently, yesterday voting unanimously to demand Solid Energy improve mine safety by immediately instituting a system of worker-elected check inspectors and dropping its opposition to such a scheme being made a legal requirement nationwide.
Labour Department inspectors halted operations at the mine on Wednesday night when elevated levels of potentially-lethal methane gas were detected.
The union's call was made at a meeting of 120 Huntly East miners which discussed the continuing suspension of coal production at the mine due to concerns over a potentially dangerous build-up of methane.
EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell said Solid Energy needed to listen to its workforce and back worker-elected check inspectors.
"Solid Energy can't credibly claim it supports lifting New Zealand's sorry mine safety regulations to international standards while it refuses to allow check inspectors and lobbies against law changes to make them compulsory," he said.
A meeting yesterday morning between owners Solid Energy and the inspectors resulted in the miners being allowed to resume preparing the area for mining, but not the mining itself.
The department's High Hazards Unit general manager Brett Murray said they had asked Solid Energy for more detailed information on the ventilation of the mine.
Without enough ventilation, a buildup of methane increased the risk of an explosion in the mine.
Mr Murray said the inspectors were "concerned to ensure that there is adequate air supply in the mine to safely manage methane in the mine".
A Labour Department spokeswoman said the notice would be in place until they were satisfied the matters identified by inspectors on Wednesday night were "being appropriately managed and risks have been mitigated".
But Solid Energy's chief operating officer Barry Bragg said the Huntly East operation was safe and there had never been any risk to workers.
Mr Bragg said Solid Energy had been aware of the elevated level of gas, but had not seen it as a reason to halt work because they were "managing it".
Neither party was able to give a more definite time for the resumption of extractions at the mine, which was a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation.