5 Aug 2013

Workers must have some mine experience, MPs told

7:45 pm on 5 August 2013

A select committee has been told of the need for minimum levels of experience in mines to prevent a repeat of the Pike River disaster.

The Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee was in Greymouth on Monday to hear submissions on the Health and Safety Bill.

The bill seeks to implement changes recommended by the Pike River Royal Commission, which looked into the deaths of 29 men following explosions at the West Coast mine in November 2010.

It includes setting up a Crown agency in charge of workplace safety which is separate from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The Royal Commission found there was a lack of expertise within the ministry to deal with safety issues such as those at the Pike River mine.

The Pike River families' lawyer told the select committee that 50 years ago, workers weren't allowed near the coal face until they had at least two-and-a-half years' experience.

Colin Smith said at Pike River, some workers were sent underground after just one week on the job.

He said the new regulations needed to include minimum levels of experience so that workers knew how to identify safety issues before they became a problem.

EPMU West Coast miners branch president David Reece told the committee that the unwillingness of management to deal with safety issues wasn't unique to Pike River.

Mr Reece said it was difficult for worker representatives to raise safety concerns, because they feared they would be penalised and passed over for promotion.

Having a union representative with the power to highlight problems and get something done about them would avoid this conflict, he told MPs.

The recommendation for greater employee involvement has been greeted with caution by the Government, which wants to avoid workers using safety concerns as a pretext for striking during wage negotiations.

The Government hopes to have the legislation passed by the end of this year.