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Not just one of those things

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, September 9th, 2011 - 25 comments
Categories: disaster, Mining - Tags:

Interesting to see the truth coming out about the NZ media’s hero Peter Whittall:

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.

25 comments on “Not just one of those things ”

  1. vto 1

    Yes I would be interested to hear from the journalists about their slanted and wrong reporting.

    • the NZ msm’s fawning over Whittall at the tme of the tragedy always did strike me as monumentally naive and unprofessional.

      i wonder how those same ‘journalists’ will try to weasel their way out of their previous attitude towards him when the truth is fully laid bare?

  2. Short pudgy right wing bald guy…all the signs were there on why Whittall shouldn’t be trusted.

  3. aerobubble 3

    Sorry, but ham I missing something. If there was no safety. No second exit.
    No safety training. No plan. Nobody manning the emergency phone. Then
    why are we having this debate, shouldn’t this be a criminal investigation
    and everything we be hevily censored. How many times do they have to
    say that there was no emergency safety in that mine, a ticking time bomb.

    • Blighty 3.1

      There is a police investigation. The inquest and the Department of Labour investigation could both end up with recommendations that charges be laid.

  4. Dv 4

    I must say it is exellent to get information rather than spin!

  5. prism 5

    When a sound bite of the recent hearing was played on radio I think I heard Peter Whittal say that he had not included services in Pike mine that he knew from his time in Australia, were mandatory there. Those who had experience and knowledge must take responsibility.

    Link to background on Pike mining management. http://www.pike.co.nz/management.php
    Peter Whittall brings close to 30 years experience as a coal miner and mining executive to his role as CEO. Prior to his appointment as Chief Executive, he was Pike’s General Manager Mines, a position he held since joining Pike in 2005. During that time he was responsible for all operational aspects of the business including mine design and development, and the essential areas of safety and environment….
    Stephen Ellis – Underground Mine Manager -Steve started in Australia as Superintendent of Development, where he achieved his Ventilation Officer Certificate in 2007 and Advanced Diploma in Underground Mine Management in 2009. He has been in operational and technical roles, including Ventilation Officer at Rio Tinto’s Kestrel Mine in Queensland, and achieved his Legislation Compentency to be Site Senior Executive in 2009…
    Robb Ridl – Engineering Manager -20 years experience in mining and heavy industry. Robb is a mechinical engineer and worked for Anglo American Corporation and De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd in South Africa as well as for Tati Nickel Mine in Botswana…

    A meaty NZ Listener article, Listener said that financial consultants were very equivocal over the viability of the mine. There were changes in leading personnel, “…NZOG chief executive David Salisbury and chairman Tony Radford told Pike chairman John Dow that they had lost confidence in the mining company’s two top managers – then-chief executive Gordon Ward and then-general manager of mines Peter Whittall. Weeks later Ward was gone and Whittall was CEO.
    It was also noted that Ward, who drove the mine project on behalf of NZOG in the early years and was Pike’s chief executive from the mid-2000s until September 2010, had no previous underground coal mining experience.
    Similarly, no directors on the Pike River Coal board at the time the project began in 2005 had any direct experience of underground coal mining, although one – Graeme Duncan – was a director of Minarco, one of the specialist consultants used by Pike.”
    It would be interesting to hear what Gordon Ward has to say about the mine project.
    ‘ Whittall revealed that in Pike’s two years as a coal mine, it had had six different mine managers… It had also had six different technical services managers since 2005.’

    TVOne has a live feed from July 2011 that shows White and Monk giving evidence to the Royal Commission with images. TVOne

    • insider 5.1

      NZOG lost confidence because the mine was over time and hugely over cost and not producing the revenues expected. Ward ‘left suddenly’ only a month before the explosion. He is an accountant. He was in charge otherwise for the whole development of the mine. It seems odd Whittall is taking all the flak given that. But, he was the lead technical person so wears a lot of the burden.

      • prism 5.1.1

        @insider – I learned a lot while I was getting these quotes and links for the thread. Ward left a month before the explosion. Wow, as you say Whittall is getting all the mention. But he had been involved from the start in a lead position for directing mine operations if Ward as CEO was just an accountant That fact seems to underline the prime concern for the business was profit and mining experience came second. (Especially if Whittall had had no underground mine experience, and even the rep of the specialist consultants to Pike River company had none.)

        and vto – Your points seem to hit the target in the centre!

    • vto 5.2

      mr prism, one of the leading causes of this disaster imo is that the company itself had no history or culture of mining. Sure it had mining staff but the company was a one-off public float. It was just a loose bunch of people. There was no long term objective of being miners for the long haul, just a sinlge objective to haul this coal out and then go home.

      This genesis led to many of the inadequacies, such as spending the first tranches of money on proing the resource and as little as possible on proving its mineability. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that there were many problems with getting the mine underway. Recall they hit a large granite-type structure during the entry that was “unexpected” and they had to go back to the public to raise more money to go through this obstacle. A well run operation would have known that granite obstacle was there. They did not. They made the mine up as they went in.

      This is the history and culture of the Pike River company. It was flawed in its setup and objectives.

      Combine that with the deregulated mining safety regs, some sloppy management (courtesy of that company culture) and voila! Prime conditions for trouble.

  6. randal 6

    the fact of the matter is that the new zealand media are mostly a gang of immature juveniles shoulder tapped at J-school to cause the least trouble to their employers and politically dependable. They do what ever they are told. They wouldn’t know a real story if it fell out of the sky and hit them on the head.

  7. Tiger Mountain 7

    The return of an effective union culture is needed in this country to stick it to these corporate yes men.

    Whitall was so transparent with the blue work shirt being worn for weeks, not quite Jackie Kennedy in blood stained dress, but certainly a tactic to elicit a positive reaction from the public.

  8. johnm 8

    I agree with the post by Zetetic 100% The NZ media are lap dogs to their paymasters, they are employed to keep the sheople pacified and happy and not to rock the boat at any cost (Except on trivial no account issues). They even do outrageous propaganda for the RWNJ crew as with Radio Live. Laws relentlessly bashes beneficiaries, The Willy and John show are in your face apologists for the Jonkey regime. Paul Henry is a live in your own world fantasist. They know an independent line means the gravy train stops!(They are all doing very well thank you!) All of the above speaks of a corporate fascist lite state here in NZ.

  9. JS 9

    The de-regulation of the mining industry by the 1990s Nat government is mainly to blame, as businesses will inevitably only do the minimum compliance they have to. And I heard this morning that businesses and their political advocates are campaigning in this election for even less regulation. We just haven’t learned with leaky homes, mining regulations and such disasters as varroa infestaton and other biosecurity disasters that we need tight regulation of all business practices and enough public servants to ensure citizens are protected.

  10. Pauline 10

    Yes, things are looking grim for Pike River Mining.

    What I want to know is:

    If conditions were so bad WHY wasn’t the EPMU in there sorting it out?

    Remind me again WwHY people pay Union Fees? *rolls eyes*

    • The Voice of Reason 10.1

      They were in there, you moron. Pike River did their best to keep the union out, hiring a high percentage of contractors to to keep the number of waged staff to a minimum (ie, those eligible to join the union). Pike River did everything they possibly could to stop the workers joining including denying access to the mine for union organisers and safety officials. We now know why, eh.
       
      The reason people join unions is stop workers being exploited by idiots like yourself and Whittall. It’s voluntary, remember? Membership is the result of conscious thought, which I guess eliminates you as a potential unionist.

      You should do something about your rolling eyes, too; probably a sign of neurological damage.

    • Tiger Mountain 10.2

      A modern union method is the organising model where workers are empowered with education, backup and resources to substantially keep an eye on their own workplace. It is not about union staff turning up like some auto breakdown service to fix everything.

      Think about this tory apologists-when legislation starts to impinge on rights of access for workers to union support, (an important human right is freedom of association), and collective bargaining is knobbled “sorting it out” becomes a whole lot more problematical. It is your filthy Hollowmen that drove changes inexorably leading to Pike River.

    • Draco T Bastard 10.3

      Oh, look, another attempt by a RWNJ to put the blame on the victims.

  11. gnomic 11

    From day one PW looked like the deer in the headlights. In my opinion you could see him thinking my beautiful career in mining is over. And one might speculate that he stuffed up in a major way. But he is of course only a pawn in their game. And don’t forget, it was the blue duck what did it! Onwards and upwards with massive open cast in Westland forests. The nation needs it.

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