Audit finds dangers in other NZ mines

The audit of coal mines in New Zealand following the Pike River Coal mine tragedy has found two mines are not compliant with health and safety regulations.

The audit report shows improvements could be made at the four mines investigated, but they do not present imminent danger.

The New Zealand government ordered the audits following the death of 29 men inside the Pike River mine in November.

Last month a local union said the New Zealand government owed it to the victims of the Pike River tragedy to improve mine safety.

Prior to the deadly explosions, the Pike River coal mine had been known to be gassy and potentially dangerous.

Mining expert David Fecikert said in January that the tragedy could have been avoided if a mining inspector was employed at the mine.

He says while safety officials do monitor mines around the country, the current system is inferior to the inspector program used until the late 90’s.

A mining inspector would have seen the dangerous levels of methane gas inside the mine and ordered an evacuation, but the positions were scrapped by the New Zealand government years ago.

Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson said the audits, undertaken by two Australian mining experts, found mine owners should enhance systems for identifying and mitigating hazards in each of the mines.

Two smaller mines, Roa and Burkes Creek were found to be uncompliant with the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

In 2006, miner Bernard Green was killed by a rock fall at the Roa mine and auditors found a high-level risk assessment was needed to identify all potentially fatal hazards.

The audit report recommended mine operations ensure health and safety standards were documented and followed and install gas monitoring systems.

At Burke Creek, it has been recommended that the operators update and improve mine plans, install an underground communication system, implement daily monitoring of the surface fan and obtain a test certificate for explosives storage.

Two mines operated by Solid Energy – Spring Creek and Huntly East – were found to be compliant with the health and safety standards, but the auditors still recommended improvements.

They found Spring Creek had the propensity for spontaneous combustion of the seam being worked and the presence of methane as a seam gas.

High levels of methane gas led to the explosion at Pike River, as noted in the audit report.

Solid Energy is one of the companies that has made an official bid for the embattled coal mine on New Zealand’s west coast and says it is the only company with enough mining experience in the region to make the mine financially viable again.

The auditors found Huntly East had significant documented systems in place.

Some were of a very high standard, but a review of the document control process was still recommended.

Wilkinson said while the lack of imminent danger at the mines was reassuring, the Government welcomed the recommended improvements.

"The auditors’ recommendations do not indicate that the mines are being operated in an unsafe manner," she told NZPA.

"However, underground coal mining is inherently dangerous and the hazards cannot be entirely eliminated, so systems and processes to minimise harm must be in place."

To ensure the recommendations are implemented, the Department of Labour has already started working with the mines.

The auditors’ report will also be provided to the Royal Commission of Inquiry.

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