Pike River tragedy caused by poor management

The Pike River tragedy that killed 29 coal miners in New Zealand two years ago was caused by poor company management and mining regulations, according to the New Zealand Royal Commission.

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Pike River Coal, the company that went into receivership after several explosions at its coking coal mine in November 2010, “had not completed the systems and infrastructure necessary to safely produce coal,” the commission said in report released on Monday November 5.

The report noted that there were numerous warnings of a potential catastrophe at the Pike River mine made by underground deputies and workers but the warnings were not heeded and the executive managers did not properly assess the health and safety risks that the workers were facing.

The immediate cause of the first explosion, it said, was the ignition of a substantial volume of methane gas, which is found naturally in coal but is explosive when it comprises 5% to 15% in volume of air.

“In the drive toward coal production the director 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,” the commission said.

Pike River Coal had only one mine and it was its sole source of revenue, the report noted.

The commission said there should be a new regulator with a sole focus on health and safety working closely with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 is generally fit for purpose but many changes are required to update the mining regulations, the report said.

New Zealand’s Solid Energy had agreed to buy Pike River Coal earlier this year.