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New Mines and Oil & Gas Body a Good Start; More Work Needed

17 August 2011

New Mines and Oil & Gas Body a Good Start; More Work Needed

The union representing most underground coal miners and oil and gas industry workers has welcomed the government's high hazards unit as a good start but says more will need to be done for New Zealand to reach world's best practice standard.

The government today announced the establishment of a high hazards unit made up of a chief inspector and three inspectors for each of the mining and oil & gas sectors as well as an overall chief. The unit is to be funded at a cost of $1.5 million from a levy the government already collects and which has been under spent by a considerable amount for some years.

The announcement follows damning evidence about the Department of Labour's capacity to deal with mining incidents at recent hearings of the Royal Commission on Pike River and a report that there is only one inspector covering the country's oil & gas exploration and production industry which operates in Taranaki, Northland, the East Coast and the Great South Basin.

"It's good to see the government taking action now, even though it was quite resistant to doing anything even recently, but more still needs to be done," EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell said.

"There is no question that after the Department of Labour's performance was exposed at the recent Pike River hearings we lost complete confidence in it to do the job of mines safety properly."

"They don't have the staff and the staff they did have, including the one mines inspector in place now. clearly haven't been supported to do the job."

"There was evidence that efforts to travel to mine incidents, such as ignitions underground - the most dangerous sort of incident in an underground mine, went unattended because a regional manager was afraid they had overspent that month's travel budget."

"We still need to be sure that this unit will be resourced to do the job properly - I don't know how far $1.5 million goes, but surely one thing we've learned from Pike River is that we should never scrimp on workplace health and safety."

"And a good inspectorate is only part of the deal. There is the need for decent regulation and reinstatement of the check inspector role to provide the full check and balance required."

"The government might want to do something truly radical and actually talk to the representatives of miners and oil & gas workers and find out what they want. As it is, we only heard about today's announcement through the media," Mr O'Connell said.

ENDS

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