10 May 2011

Audit calls for major safety improvements at mines

10:24 pm on 10 May 2011

An independent audit carried out after the Pike River disaster has found two of New Zealand's four underground coal mines need significant safety improvements.

The Government ordered a report into New Zealand's four underground mines following the Pike River Coal mine explosions which killed 29 men in November last year.

Four mines were checked - Spring Creek, Roa and Burke's Creek on the West Coast, and Huntly East.

The report, by auditors from Queensland's mining industry, found there is no evidence of imminent danger at any of the sites. However, it found that the Roa mine and the Burke's Creek site do not meet health and safety standards.

It said the Roa Mine, which employs 35 people, lacks safety documentation and further information is needed to be sure it is legally complying. It also recommends the mine puts in a fixed gas monitoring system.

Roa Mine chief executive Brent Francis says the site has manual monitoring systems which sometimes work better than automated ones and intends to introduce some of the audit team's recommendations.

Mr Francis believes the audit was rushed, but had value in some of its suggestions for improvements. However, he says it would be wrong to say that his mine is dangerous in any way.

The audit team found the small father-and-son operation at Burkes Creek mine needs systems to identify hazards and begin documenting safety systems.

Richard Banks Snr says the auditors have treated his operation as a gassy mine, when the Reefton coal field has never had gas in it.

Mr Banks says he and his son stopped going underground soon after Pike River tragedy and they might be forced to switch to open-cast mining if they cannot convince the Department of Labour to be reasonable.

The auditors were largely satisfied with Solid Energy's Huntly East and Spring Creek mines, but criticised safety management at Spring Creek and the way water testing was done at Huntly.

Solid Energy chief operating officer Barry Bragg says he expects to adopt all the recommendations, but not all immediately.

The Department of Labour says the recommendations are not legally binding, but expects the mines to make the changes suggested.

Mine report reveals basic safety flaws - union

The union for coal miners says the report highlights the total lack of oversight in the industry.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national secretary, Andrew Little, said it is nonsense to suggest there is no imminent danger when the audit shows basic flaws in safety systems.

He says there must be proper industry-wide regulations over-seen by a mines inspectorate.

One of the Australian mining experts who carried out the audit, Brett Garland, told Morning Report that he would have no problem working in any of the mines but that record-keeping could be improved at the Roa and Burke's Creek mines, in particular.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson says work is already underway to implement the report's recommendations and a copy of the report will be provided to the Royal Commission into the Pike River disaster.

Review necessary - industry

The coal industry says a review of coal mine safety was necessary to reassure the public.

The chief executive of the resources sector lobby group Straterra, Chris Baker, says the exercise might have been a little rushed but it had to be done.

Mr Baker says mine operators did their own safety reviews after Pike River disaster, but it was necessary to have an independent assessment, and expects the mines will adopt the recommendations.