Why are we passionate about Health & Safety? Two words: Pike River
The 19th of November
Sam, our Director, remembers the 19th of November 2010 like it was yesterday. She was sitting at work in Henderson and heard on the news that an explosion had ripped through the Pike River mine on the West Coast of the South Island – with 31 men stuck underground. Having 10 people out in the field that day the reality of the importance of health and safety at work hit home harder than ever. And as the news unfolded over the following days and weeks it became clear that this event had been completely avoidable and that corners had been actively cut to save costs. Sam knew from that moment that she wanted to improve the effectiveness and take-up of Health and Safety in the company she worked for.
The Pike River Mines disaster changed the way New Zealand approached Health and Safety at Work - and resulted in the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and the establishment of WorkSafe.
That same year that Sam started Coordinate with the aim to “make health and safety easy”.
Because she knew that if it wasn’t arduous, and instead meaningful, then both the company and their workers would be engaged and participating in Health and Safety, making it effective.
Why does it matter?
As the changes to Health and Safety came into effect Nat, one of our Consultants, was asked to do a presentation on Health and Safety to the 50+ people in construction she was working with. In her words: “The more I researched the new legislation for my presentation and the more I learnt about Pike River, the more I realised what those unfortunate people and their families had gone through. It made it very clear to me that I never wanted anyone, let alone those I worked with, to be in a situation like that. I showed my colleagues why Health and Safety was so important and why we needed to work together to ensure it became a normal part of work - and not some extra annoying thing that should be done. From that point on, H&S changed in our organisation - we had much more compliance, it became a natural part of the work we did and was incorporated into every project we undertook”. Nat became the in house Health and Safety Manager for that same large NZ construction firm.
To this day this image of the 29 men that lost their lives drives all of us at Coordinate to help our clients and their workers avoid the same mistakes.
We are passionate about ensuring worker safety, engagement and participation – while also understanding the needs of employers.
Want to know more about the Pike River Disaster?
On the afternoon of 19th November 2010, an explosion ripped through Pike River mine on the West Coast of the South Island.
The explosion was the result of methane gas and air mixing.
29 men were killed.
Subsequent explosions occurred on 24th, 26th and 28th November.
Since coal mining began in New Zealand in 1850, there have been 211 recorded deaths from nine separate explosions.
How did this happen?
Mine construction (in almost every phase) had delays and cost overruns. Shortcuts and changes made.
A combination of errors occurred within the mine, including;
Inadequate methane drainage,
Non-functioning gas sensors,
Flawed electrical and ventilation design
Inaction on hazard warnings.
The failings were compounded by the failure of government regulatory authorities to effectively inspect the mine and act to remedy the problems.
Were there warnings? … Yes!
From the time the tunnel penetrated coal there had been frequent methane level alarms and many small ignitions
Warning signals were often not acted on because of the pressure to increase coal production.
The planned methane detection system was never fully installed or calibrated.
At one stage the Inspector of Mines, employed by the Labour Department, considered closing down the mine until the methane and ventilation problems were sorted out, but the mine management convinced him that they had these issues under control.
Methane reaches explosive levels at 5% to 15% of the air. Between October 25 and November 19, methane levels exceeded 1.25% on 13 occasions. Including reaching the explosive range five time
The drilling rig's methane sensor was found to be faulty on the morning of the blast, but the rig kept operating. Its electrics and gas sensors were supposed to be checked weekly, but this had not been done for four and a half months prior to the explosion.
Only one of three methane sensors in its restricted zone that fed data constantly to the control room operated on the day of the explosion, which was against the company's rules.
A sensor for carbon monoxide, an early indicator of spontaneous combustion, in the hydro-mining area also stopped working more than a month before the blast.
Plastic bags had been put over methane sensors inside the mine.
Its fresh-air base was inadequate, as were its smoke lines, which helped guide workers out of a mine to safety in the darkness of an explosion.
Incident reports were not followed up, at one point there were more than 100 outstanding reports.
At the time of the tragedy, New Zealand had just two mine inspectors who were unable to keep up with their workload. Pike River was able to obtain a permit with no scrutiny of its initial health and safety plans and little ongoing scrutiny.
New Zealand prime minister (at the time) John Key said the primary blame lies with the mining company. "The company completely and utterly failed to protect its workers," he said.
To this day:
The 29 miners bodies have still not been recovered
No one has been officially held accountable for what happened