The safety of the Pike River coal mine prior to the fatal explosions in November is still facing intense scrutiny, with a Mines Rescue Service report finding that using the ventilation shaft as a secondary means of escape would have been “extremely difficult” in an emergency.
Former chief executive Peter Whittall has been questions again today at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the tragedy that killed 29 men.
Questions were asked surrounding an audit of the mine by NZ Mines Rescue Service in 2009, which identified the lack of self-escape in the mine a “major concern.”
The single entry and exit shaft at the mine has been criticised previously, and the secondary escape route was not sufficient, according to Rescue Services.
The report said it would be “virtually impossible to use the secondary ventilation shaft during a fire.
Whittall said he could not recall whether a trial evacuation of all the men underground was done using the ventilation shaft.
Yesterday he said safety issues had never been raised by mine managers with him in the two years prior to the explosions on November 19.
He labelled the high turnover of mine managers, six employed in the two years prior to mid-2010 – as “frustrating.”
A former safety officer at the Pike River mine has previously said he quit over concerns about the safety standards at the site.
But when asked if any of the mine managers voiced concerns over the safety at the mine, his responded, “With me, no.”
He showed a mine plan from 2005 showing a second exit that was never constructed.
It was supposed to be a 10-15 metre passage to the surface, Whittall said.
Ordinarily, New Zealand mines are required to have a second exit, under Health and Safety in Emplyment (Mining Underground) Regulations.
The former mine boss confirmed reports the mine was behind schedule and had financial issues.
The company was looking at being between $6 million and $24 million in the red, according to Simon Mount, counsel assisting the commission.
Whittall agreed with the figures during questioning and said financial problems had “become an issue.”
As lunch was called on the proceedings, lawyers said with the present point of progress, there is a good chance it will end today.
Watch the live stream of the inquiry on stuff.co.nz here.
Image: Peter Whittall at the inquiry; stuff.co.nz