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EPMU renews call for mine “check inspectors”

16 December, 2010 -- News Release

EPMU renews call for mine “check inspectors” after 60 Minutes’ “Blood on the Coal” investigation

The Government must place the issue of check inspectors squarely before the Pike River Commission of Inquiry, the Engineering, Printing & Manufacturing Union (EPMU) says today following last night’s 60 Minutes “Blood on the Coal” investigation that uncovered a series of disturbing revelations about safety at the mine (1).

“Check inspectors are the last line of defence for health and safety in a coal mine but in New Zealand, unlike Australia and Britain, they were scrapped in 1992 by the then National Government,” says EPMU national secretary Andrew Little.

“The safety issues uncovered by ‘Blood on the Coal’ highlighted that having check inspectors at the Pike River mine might have made the difference between safety and tragedy.”

“The Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, needs to dust off the work done in 2008 on this and other mine safety issues and put it in front of the Commission. We owe it to the 29 men who died in the Pike River coal mine and the rest of the 7,270 people that work in mining sector to do this.”

“Elected check inspectors were experienced miners with special safety responsibilities and checking functions in mines, but they were scrapped despite warnings at the time that doing so would risk the sort of disaster that happened at Pike River mine on 19 November.”

“The deregulation of health and safety in coal mines in 1992 by the then National Government replaced a prescriptive approach that included a mechanism for workers’ safety concerns to be aired with an open-ended system in which the workers’ voice has been devalued.”

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“Even in other countries, like the UK and Australia, which introduced less prescriptive overall health and safety legislation, they made sure it was supplemented with detailed regulation for clearly hazardous industries like underground mining.”

“The EPMU has campaigned on behalf of miners for the reinstatement of check inspectors since 1992, renewing its call for them in the aftermath of workplace deaths in the Black Reef and Roa mines on the West Coast in 2006. Subsequent changes to the Health and Safety in Employment Act have failed to fill the gap in the system left since then.”

“The 2008 review of mine safety ordered by then Minister of Labour Trevor Mallard was on track to carefully examine the case for reintroducing check inspectors, but after a change of government in 2008 the new Minister of Labour, National’s Kate Wilkinson, failed to address the gap in the system and chose not to reintroduce check inspectors.”

“It’s easy for businesses to say more health and safety regulations create an added cost, but the cost of not doing health and safety properly is to put the lives of workers at risk.”

“This is not a time to stand on our digs about the free market, deregulated approach to business and the workplace. It’s about a sensible recognition that some workplaces and industries are inherently dangerous and that people working in them are entitled to the best possible protections going.”

“The New Zealand mining industry needs to take a ‘safety case’ approach to preventing disasters such as the Pike River mine tragedy which entails a thorough investigation or risk assessment involving all workers within a site. Mining licences should only then be issued on the basis of a certified safety case process that is signed off by the union (2).”


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