The Sydney Morning Herald published today a startling interview with historian Gerry Morris, who grew up in a Greymouth mining family and who lost his grandfather in a mining accident near Greymouth in 1940. (For more about Mr Morris’ background read the article here.)
Mr Morris was critical of the way the in which the police “dragged out the information flows” which resulted in more anguish for the families, until Peter Whittall broke the news after the second explosion that all the men had likely perished.
He said he couldn’t see why families hadn’t been given more information and that the mining community was knowledgeable enough to be able to process it.
In one section of the interview he gave an indication that a change in both mining regulations and the H&S enforcement regime in mines may lie at the root of why the disaster could have happened:
“Simply, it goes right back when mining regulations changed. Mining regulations were very, very prescriptive, the managing of coal mining changed to an OSH (occupational safety and health) regime where the responsibility for safety became a lot more blurred and a lot more generalised.”
The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 introduced changes to mining safety laws and did away with the Mines Department, and regulation fell under the auspices of the OSH service of the Department of Labour, he said.
Pike had an “almost impossible” commercial imperative to get a return on the money poured into the mine, and were working under regulations less prescriptive than they once were, he said.
“If they had had people like the old regime of inspectors on the West Coast, and I think there’s only two mining inspectors left in New Zealand … you wouldn’t think the mine would be allowed to operate with these sort of gas issues.”
Greymouth was “just devastated”, he said.
“Everyone has got some connection with that mine.”
A lack of on-site of mining inspectors was something that Pike River Coal raised concerns about and it must surely form part of the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry
Read Pike River Mine Management Raised Concerns About NZ Coal Mining Legislation, Calls for On Site Mine Inspectors:- A 2008 submission by the Pike River Coal company, as part of a review of New Zealand’s mine legislation, said there was a serious shortage of mining inspectors and raises other safety concerns…
Also read : Pike River mine – what went wrong :- levels of methane in the mine reached dangerous levels above which miners should have been evacuated – suggesting that ” either the warning system was inadequate or it wasn’t properly monitored.”…
Update 27 November 2010
Two possible causes for the blast
Two possible causes for the initial blast have been postulated by NZ mine safety expert David Feickert, interviewed in The Australian
Feickert noted that the electrical system had broken down prior to the first explosion.
This would have stopped the main electric ventilators from working, Feickert said, and despite the mine’s natural ventilation system, methane was likely to have started building up.
Then there would have been a source of ignition, which could have been connected with the electrical problem, he said.
Feickert said another possibility was a gas outburst, where a pocket of methane in a seam developed such pressure behind it that it broke out and found its way to oxygen, which is required to ignite it.
Rescue Effort Flawed
Feickert also said that he thought the decision-making structure of the rescue effort “was deeply flawed and was inferior to that in Australia, where mining emergencies are handled by company management supported by mine inspectors and union-appointed safety officers.”
Management Struggled to Maintain Methane Levels
Former Pike River employee Brent Forrester, whose close friend Ricki Keane was among those killed in the explosion, told today’s Timaru Herald that “management struggled to maintain the methane levels, and safety concerns he and his crew raised were often ignored.” He said the mine “always had ventilation issues” and his gas detector would frequently go “off the charts”. The paper reported that “he said many of the methane sensors did not work or were not calibrated and the mine’s phone system needed to be upgraded”. Forrester explained that “the reason I didn’t push it too far [with management] was the fear of losing my job. The pressure is always on, they’re losing a lot of money, so they’re making you cut a lot of short-cuts”. Source
Department of Labour Inquiry “Planned”
An inquiry into the Pike River Coal disaster is also being planned by the Department of Labour but they declined to reveal any key details about inspections at this mine, in an request written about by the NZPA on 22 November 2010. Again the issue of gas sensors has been raised:
A department spokesman declined to say whether key equipment — Waratah continuous miners and a Sandvik ABM20 bolter-miner — were fitted with detectors to shut down the machinery when methane levels became dangerous, or whether there were any automatic sensors in the mine to warn if methane was at potentially explosive levels.
“Information of this nature will form part of the department’s investigation and will not therefore be released until after the investigation,” he said.
The spokesman also declined to talk about an “outburst” of potentially inflammable gas in the mine last month, or problems with inflammable gas in the mine following the commissioning of the first one of the company’s two main underground fans.
“Our investigation of the incident at the mine will review all interactions with the (Pike River Coal) company, and until that is complete, we can not release any detailed information about them,” the spokesman said”…more on Yahoo News