14 May 2010

Miner's death could have been prevented - coroner

6:39 pm on 14 May 2010

A coroner says the death of a miner on the West Coast could have been prevented if the Department of Labour had acted sooner to bring in new safety rules.

Robert McGowan was killed when an area of the Black Reef Mine collapsed and flooded in March of 2006.

A coroner's report released on Friday found that the mine had not been accurately surveyed and therefore Mr McGowan did not know he was tunnelling towards a disused mine shaft full of water.

The coroner for Buller District, Peter Rosselli, says the accident which killed 39-year-old miner should never have happened.

Mr Rosselli says he gives the Department of Labour credit for changing its policy to require regular instrument surveys of underground mines to maintain accurate plans.

However, he says that policy should have come into force in 1993 after the passing of the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

The Department of Labour says Mr McGowan's death was preventable and the mining industry and regulators need to learn from the incident to ensure it does not happen again.

The department says it will now make regular checks of mine plans to ensure they are based on instrument surveys - a move that the coroner has also recommended.

Head of workplace, Lesley Haines, says the new procedure is an effort to increase the safety of mining workplaces and prevent any more deaths.

However, Mr McGowan's widow, Valma McGowan, believes the new policy will do little to improve safety in mines.