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Pike River mine deaths could have been prevented

World Coal,

The Royal Commission that investigated the Pike River mine disaster, in which 29 miners were killed, has blamed lax safety standards for the disaster: “The drive for coal production before the mine was ready created the circumstances within which the tragedy has occurred,” the report said. “Directors and executive managers paid insufficient attention to health and safety and exposed the company’s workers to unacceptable risks. Mining should have stopped until the risks could be properly managed.”

Pike River should not have been allowed to operate

It also laid heavy blame on the New Zealand government for allowing the mine to continue operating, saying the Department of Labour “didn’t have focus, capacity or strategies to ensure that Pike was meeting its legal responsibilities under health and safety laws.” The report concluded that: "The department should have prohibited Pike from operating the mine until its health and safety systems were adequate."

Admitting that it was possible the disaster could have been prevented, John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand, issued an apology on behalf of the government to the families of the victims for “the role [the] lack or regulatory effectiveness played in the tragedy”. It was also announced that Kate Wilkinson, the minister for labour, who had responsibility for mine safety oversight, has resigned.

Pike River lessons “must be remembered”

The report was also critical of New Zealand’s workplace safety record: “In relation to underground coal mining, New Zealand has had a tragedy every generation or so, after the lessons of previous tragedies have been forgotten,” said the report. “This time the lessons must be remembered. That would be the best way to show respect for the 29 men who never returned home.” The report recommends the creation of a new regulator for health and safety across all industries, as well as the updating of mining regulations and improvements to emergency response procedures.

Solid Energy: no easy way to recover bodies

The Pike River assets were acquired by Solid Energy, a state-owned mining company, earlier this year. At the time of the purchase, Dr Don Elder, CEO of Solid Energy, committed to taking all reasonable steps to recover the bodies of the victims, which are still trapped underground, but warned that there would be no quick solution: "After extensive work by our own technical team, including advice and review by international experts, [we have] concluded that the only safe, feasible and credible option for recovering the men's bodies will be as part of a future commercial mining operation. This will take some years to develop and implement […] Unfortunately, we […] do not consider there is a reasonable standalone option – one that is safe, technically feasible and financially credible – to undertake body recovery in the near future, in advance of future commercial mining."

Written by Jonathan Rowland.

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