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'Near Enough Just Not Good Enough,' Says EPMU

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Andrew Little
Andrew Little

Independent audits on underground mine safety released this week (10 May) by the Department of Labour show serious deficiencies in health and safety systems in New Zealand's underground coal mines.

Audit reports have been produced for Huntly East, Spring Creek, Roa Mine and Burke's Creek. While the Australian auditors have recommended improvements at all four mines, they identify serious problems with Roa Mine and Burke's Creek.

Huntly East and Spring Creek, both operated by Solid Energy, have high levels of union membership. There are fewer union members at the independently owned and operated Roa Mine and Burke's Creek.

At Roa Mine, the auditors have highlighted the need for a high-level risk assessment to identify all potential hazards. They have also questioned current mining practices and emphasised the need for a gas monitoring system as part of proper mine atmosphere management.

At Burke's Creek, underground operations during the period of audit were suspended until an underground communications system could be installed. Systems and processes covering mine plans, surface fan maintenance and explosive storage were also identified as needing improvement.

'We know that underground mining is a dangerous industry,' says EPMU national secretary Andrew Little. 'But these reports show we are still not taking health and safety risks seriously. Near enough is just not good enough.'

'It's also disturbing that we're only having this discussion on the back of the Pike River mine disaster,' says Little. 'We need industry wide standards that are properly enforced. The one code of practice we have is not even mandatory.'

Little deplores the lack of underground mine inspections, and says that budget cuts are making the situation worse. 'Regular audits need to be part of a property resourced mines inspectorate. We're talking about people's lives here.'

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