9 Jun 2015

Opposition: Quarry regulation 'serious concern'

6:47 pm on 9 June 2015

Opposition parties say it is alarming that quarries in New Zealand are virtually unregulated due to the Government's hands-off approach to workplace safety.

The Pyramid Valley quarry where a digger driver was buried in a rock slide.

The quarry where a digger was engulfed in a rock slide yesterday in North Canterbury. Photo: Westpac Rescue

The driver of an excavator buried in falling rocks at a quarry in North Canterbury yesterday is feared dead.

The Labour Party is calling for safety laws at quarries to be urgently strengthened.

The party's spokesperson for labour relations, Iain Lees-Galloway, said this was the latest in a series of accidents at quarry sites.

Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway.

Labour Party spokesperson for labour relations Iain Lees-Galloway (left) is calling for improved quarry safety requirements. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Lees-Galloway said the Government needed to ensure there were industry health and safety representatives at quarry and tunnelling worksites - as there were at mines.

"There's no way you can completely eliminate risk but you can do things to reduce risk.

"It doesn't matter what you have in place, accidents will happen but you can reduce the incidence of the accidents and you can reduce the likelihood that accidents will cause injury and death," Mr Lees-Galloway said.

New Zealand First labour spokesperson Clayton Mitchell said the Government had failed to learn from the Pike River coal mining accident, in which 29 miners died.

Mr Mitchell said the Government was warned during the 2011 Pike River inquiry that the quarry industry was unsafe. He said it still did not know how many quarries there were or where they were all located.

"They haven't policed it, they haven't managed it, they haven't funded it to make sure that these sorts of issues stop occurring," Mr Mitchell said.

"And now we've got similar incidents - three this year so far in relation to quarries. It's a serious concern and one that I personally hold the Government to account for."

Prime Minister, John Key.

Prime Minister John Key said improved guidelines for the sector were already on their way. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But the Prime Minister said improved guidelines for the quarrying sector were on their way.

John Key said, while the quarry industry was not included in new tougher regulations for mining, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse was working with it.

"There a lot of quarries in New Zealand. Some of them are very small, they have different characteristics, so the minister is working with them and I suspect there will be a new set of guidelines that will be introduced fairly shortly," Mr Key said.

Mr Key said it was obvious New Zealand needed to improve its record when it came to accidents in the workplace.

However, at the same time, his Government has been criticised by Opposition MPs and the Council of Trade Unions for watering down its planned new health and safety legislation.

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