Safety ultimately lies with employer, former inspector says

7:56 pm on 17 November 2011

The mine inspector who had oversight of the Pike River mine at the time of the explosion that killed 29 men has told the Royal Commission safety on the site was ultimately the company's responsibility.

Kevin Poynter has been cross-examined by a series of lawyers at Thursday's session of the inquiry into the explosions.

They included the lawyer for the former chief executive of the mine company, Peter Whittall.

He wanted to know what information and changes Mr Poynter did or did not seek from the mine.

Mr Poynter conceded he didn't not have all the information to make the decisions he was making.

He said he took his role as a health and safety inspector seriously but said the primary responsibility for any work site lies with the employer.

Mr Poynter said he was only able to get a snapshot of what was happening at the mine.

Concerns raised repeatedly about lack of inspectors

Mr Poynter also told the Commission that for more than a year mine inspectors had repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of inspectors.

He was asked about concerns over the number of inspectors raised at regular mine steering group meetings.

From July 2009, the minutes of the three-monthly meetings show the two inspectors repeatedly voiced concerns about the lack of inspectors, but nothing changed.

At that time there were two inspectors for the whole country. There is now only one because Mr Poynter has moved to Australia.

Mr Poynter said there were many layers of management between the inspectors and the people making the decisions about staffing and they found it very difficult to push things past the mines steering group to upper management.

In the minutes from one of the meetings, Mr Poynter was quoted as saying the low number of inspectors posed a risk, particularly in regard to underground mining.

Asked what he meant by this, Mr Poynter said at the time he meant the risk to the industry.

However, given the review process he and his fellow inspector have gone through since the disaster, he said he now sees it was clearly a risk to them personally as well.