Nov 6 2012 by Iain Howie, Perthshire Advertiser
A coal mine disaster which killed a Perth man, happened after workers were repeatedly exposed to a series of risks, investigators ruled yesterday.
The company behind New Zealand’s Pike River Mine, where Pete Rodger (40) died along with 28 co-workers, is said to have ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had built up to serious levels before an underground explosion in November 2010.
A Royal Commission on the incident, which reported yesterday after 11 weeks of hearings, found that the company had exposed miners to unacceptable risks as it tried to meet financial targets.
And the commission also concluded New Zealand should take steps to improve its workplace safety record, which is poor, and establish a regulator to improve standards.
Former Perth Grammar pupil Mr Rodger was one of two Scots among the 29 men aged 17-59 who died in the incident on November 19, 2010, either from the first explosion, or exposure to gases and subsequent explosions.
Efforts to rescue the men in the immediate aftermath and subsequently recover their remains was hampered by the level of gases. The report said: “The mine was new and the owner, Pike River Coal Ltd (Pike), had not completed the systems and infrastructure necessary to safely produce coal. Its health and safety systems were inadequate.
“Pike’s ventilation and methane drainage systems could not cope with everything the company was trying to do.
“There were numerous warnings of a potential catastrophe at Pike River. One source of these was the reports made by the underground deputies and workers. “For months they had reported incidents of excess methane (and many other health and safety problems). In the last 48 days before the explosion there were 21 reports of methane levels reaching explosive volumes, and 27 reports of lesser, but potentially dangerous, volumes.
“The reports of excess methane continued up to the very morning of the tragedy. The warnings were not heeded.”
The commission’s report added: “It is the commission’s view that even though the company was operating in a known high-hazard industry, the board of directors did not ensure that health and safety was being properly managed and the executive managers did not properly assess the health and safety risks that the workers were facing.”
The now-bankrupt Pike River Coal company is not defending itself against charges it committed nine violations related to the disaster.