Pike River Coal guilty

Pike River Coal company has been found guilty on all nine health and safety charges laid after the 2010 mine disaster which killed 29 workers.

New Zealand district court judge Jane Farish found the company responsible for fundamental safety breaches.

The Greymouth judge said the breaches were "causative of the explosion and the subsequent deaths of the men who perished".

Joanne Ufer’s 25 year-old son Joshua was one of the men who died in the gas explosion. 

Ufer told Australian Mining that today’s results feel like a “shallow victory” especially because if Pike River is fined, its receivership status means the fines probably won’t be paid.

“It is a bit of a shallow victory really to now have the knowledge that two of the three that were charged by the Department of Labour (being Valley Longwall and now Pike River) have been found guilty of those safety breaches,” she said.

“Valley Longwall’s fine was insignificant considering that three of their employees died at Pike River including my son Joshua.

“Pike River Company is basically a non-entity as they are in receivership and I cannot imagine that any fine they receive will be able to be paid.”

But Ufer said if anything can come from this tragedy it’s that worker’s safety should always be a company’s top priority.

“If a valuable lesson can be learnt from this, it is that companies need to look after their workers, their most valuable asset,” she said.

“Nothing can bring them back once they are gone.”

The decision has given bereaved father Lawrie Drew some comfort, the ABC reported. 

"This is one good step because someone has been found culpable, but the punishment never fits what happens," he said.

Pike River Coal faces fines of up to $2 million but the company is currently in receivership and owes secured creditors $20 million.

Pike River Coal will be sentenced in early July.

Pike River’s former chief executive Peter Whittall is yet to be trialled over alleged health and safety failures relating to the November 19, 2010 explosion at the underground mine.

To date Whittall has denied all 12 charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment [formerly the Labour Department] is alleging he failed to protect workers from harm.

It will allege the harm relates to methane, strata and ventilation management, and mitigating explosion risk and impact.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of $NZD250,000.

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