DISAGREEMENT WITH WHITTALL
Earlier he told the inquiry a disagreement over a lack of a second emergency exit at the mine had sparked a relationship breakdown between Rockhouse and the then Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall.Rockhouse said he had proposed building an airtight refuge chamber where men could stay for three days in an emergency, instead of using the 108-metre ventilation shaft as an emergency exit.
But Whittall declined the proposal, he said, because he believed the ventilation shaft would suffice.
“It was at about this time that Mr Whittall and my personal relationship began to deteriorate as my attitude is, and always has been safety first.”
Pike River was very much Whittall’s baby. 29 of his employees died in the mine he designed and ran. I’d be interested to hear from a journo the story of why the NZ media chose to portray this as an unavoidable accident, and exonerated the company from the start.
Even in a dangerous occupation like underground mining, 29 men don’t just die for no reason.
It’s a failure of safety procedures – an explosion that should never have happened, 41 minutes before the alarm was raised, no way to establish what had happened underground.
It’s a failure of planning – all the more shocking to learn that, despite this being a gassy mine, there was no plan for the event of an explosion because the bosses didn’t think it would happen.
It’s a failure of respect for and care for the wellbeing of the workers – in our neoliberal world, workers are a commodity, not human beings with a right to dignity and safety. The same attitude that had these men digging a hole in the ground when they needed to take a shit can be seen in the decision that it wasn’t worth the cost to give them an underground refuge chamber.
The blame for those failures must ultimately belong with those who put the men in harm’s way without adequate preparations.