Mine safety under scrutiny

Flames coming out of a ventilation shaft at Pike River

Byron Clark

Questions about the safety of New Zealand mines are being asked after incidents last month. On July 25 a miner was nearly killed by falling coal while installing roof supports in a new tunnel at the Spring Creek mine on the West Coast, near the site of the infamous Pike River mine. Just over a week prior, twenty-eight miners became trapped by a truck engine fire at Newmont Waihi Gold’s Trio mine, in the northern Hauruki district. In that case all the miners were evacuated safely.

Solid Energy, the owners of the Spring Creek mine, have been criticised by mine safety consultant Dave Feickert, who told Radio New Zealand that company is complacent and, at times, arrogant. “I’ve come to the conclusion that they are a company that must raise their game. They claim to be best-practice, they claim to be introducing the Queensland model which is the world’s best – well, not all of it, because they don’t want to have check inspectors. They’ve made these claims and I’m afraid they have just not proven it.”

Back in February, the Department of Labour issued Spring Creek with a prohibition notice following three separate safety incidents related to system breakdowns in safety controls. The notice was lifted two weeks later after the department said it was happy with the company’s response to the incidents.

In the wake of the Wahi fire the union representing miners, the EPMU, also called for the implementation of the Queensland model “One of the key elements of the Queensland model is for workers to elect their own check inspectors to ensure there’s an independent and trusted safety representative on the job to signal the alarm as soon as potential safety hazards arise.” Said assistant national secretary Ged O’Connell.

“We understand the Government is waiting on the Pike River Royal Commission report, but it’s increasingly clear that unless our mine safety standards are brought up to international standards New Zealand’s miners will continue to be put at risk.”

The Huntly East underground coal mine, also owned by Solid Energy was also closed for several days in June. The state owned company is one which the government has earmarked for privatisation.

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Comments

  1. What is needed is an NZ Miners Union. Being part of a large union, which includes printers for example, defeats concentration on the issues. If we had a single Miners Union then maybe Pike River would still be in production. (I had shares in Pike).

  2. I would agree a NZ Miners Union should be considered. A NZ Miner’s Union is more likely to actively promote union awareness and address safety concerns in all sectors of the mining workplace. Instead current union comments like ‘we can’t be everywhere’ & ‘if they want to join they can find the information’ helps ensure workplace practices leave people vulnerable and shows little understanding of the person working in the industry. A person working an arduous 12 hour shift, with day/night shifts and only a few days off in between, one which will be sleeping and the Filipino worker with limited English and little local knowledge need greater support than an apparently stretched large union can presently provide.

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