22 Nov 2011

Lack of leadership at Pike River mine, commission told

10:02 pm on 22 November 2011

The Royal Commission into the Pike River disaster has heard there was a lack of leadership at the mine, and confusion over who was doing what.

The commission on Tuesday heard from a Japanese miner who quit Pike River a month before the first explosion due to fears it would explode.

Masaoki Nishioka said on his arrival at Pike River he couldn't find out who was in charge of essential elements such as the ventilation system.

He also felt some of the mine's systems were poorly designed and made the operation more dangerous.

Mr Nishioka said he quit the mine in October because he was fearful it would explode at any time.

He was concerned about the high methane levels, the pressure on staff, the inadequate gas drainage and ventilation systems, and the lack of a second exit.

He said management didn't seem to understand the magnitude of the changes needed and that many mine staff appeared to be yes men who weren't prepared to point out any problems at the mine.

Mr Nishioka also told the inquiry Peter Whitall introduced a production bonus in early September, which gave $10,000 for all employees if 1000 tonnes was produced by 24 September.

He came under pressure from the miners to get hydro-mining operating as soon as possible and did it reluctantly before the robust ventilation system and second egress were ready.

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Dispute over advice

Earlier, the Royal Commission heard evidence that contradicts an email sent by former Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall.

Solid Energy says it identified multiple weaknesses in Pike River's hydro-mining operation just before the fatal explosions on 19 November last year, when 29 men died.

Underground mines general manager Craig Smith told the commission about a visit by Solid Energy personnel to Pike River in early November 2010 to offer advice on hydro-mining.

Following the visit, Mr Whittall sent an email to Pike River's directors saying Solid Energy had no significant advice to offer and that Pike River's techniques were consistent with Solid Energy's.

Mr Smith said on Tuesday that was not the case. He said the group identified a number of improvements that could be made and passed that on to Pike River Coal.