Review of the Department of Labour's interactions with Pike River Coal Limited
On 19 November 2010, an explosion (followed days later by another) trapped and killed 29 miners at the Pike River coal mine, owned by Pike River Coal Limited.
Within hours of the explosion, the Department of Labour was on-site providing assistance and specialist technical support to those gathered to secure the site and decide what immediate actions would be taken.
The Department launched an investigation into the tragedy on 25 November 2010 to determine whether there had been any breaches of the terms of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (the Act). This investigation is still continuing at the date of this report.
The Prime Minister announced on 1 December 2010 that a Royal Commission of Inquiry would be set up to inquire into the tragedy. The Royal Commission has wide terms of reference including determining what happened and how, and how to avoid such an event occurring in the future.
This is the tenth Inquiry or Royal Commission of Inquiry into mining disasters in New Zealand's history.
The HSE Act promotes the prevention of harm to all persons at work and other persons in, or in the vicinity of, a place of work. Its objectives include:
- Promoting excellence in health and safety management systems;
- Defining hazards and harm in a comprehensive way so that all hazards and harm are covered, including harm caused by work-related stress and hazardous behaviour caused by certain temporary conditions;
- Imposing duties to ensure people are not harmed as a result of work activities;
- Setting requirements that relate to the taking of all practicable steps to ensure health and safety in places of work;
- Encouraging employee participation in the improvement of health and safety and encouraging good faith co-operation in places of work; and
- Providing a range of enforcement methods in response to failure to comply with the Act.
The Department of Labour administers the HSE Act. The HSE Act places the primary responsibility on employers and other specified duty holders. The role of the Department is to help employers and the other duty holders to improve safety at work, provide information and education, and take all practicable steps to ensure that the HSE Act is being complied with.
As part of its response to the tragedy and to its likely key role in the Royal Commission, the Department commissioned an independent review of its operations relating to Pike River up to the day of the first explosion. The principal terms of reference for the review are outlined below and the full terms are included in Appendix 5.
Two Australian expert reviewers were contracted to provide the report. Their biographies are provided below.
The Department's intent in commissioning the review was two-fold. Firstly it was to seek an independent judgement of its regulatory performance to inform its own future response to the Pike River tragedy. Secondly, it was to provide an expert, independent review of the Department's performance to the Royal Commission to inform its deliberations.