A good case study re-enforcing the need for ‘Safety Leadership’/’Culture of Safety’ (from top to bottom) within an organisation…
Pike River mine warning: ‘She’s going to blow’
By: Neil Reid – Stuff.co.nz (Fairfax NZ News) – 22/04/2012
Stuart Mudge dreamed of learning the art of mining on the Pike River coalface.
But it was a passion which ultimately claimed the life of the 31-year-old resident of Runanga, a township 10km northwest from Greymouth.
And as a Royal Commission of Inquiry investigates the cause of the tragedy – as well as a raft of issues relating to the mine’s safety procedures, design and the actions of former management – Mudge’s parents have gone public with an aborted plan to have the mine closed down.
Just weeks before the initial explosion at Pike River on November 19, 2010, a group of Pike River miners and contractors – including Mudge – voiced their shared concerns over the mine at a private barbecue.
“They were all talking about safety at Pike River. Stu said something like, ‘The gas levels are terrible, she is going to blow . . . we should be doing something about it’,” Mudge’s mother, Carol Rose, told the Sunday Star-Times.
Stu’s father, Steve Rose, added: “They said, ‘OK, we will do it. We will go in on Monday morning and shut the mine down.’ ”
But the concerned delegation of Pike River miners never made it to the Labour Department.
Steve said that the day following the barbecue, the men realised such a move could end their mining careers. “It was like, ‘S—, we will be blacklisted, we will never get another job in mining, no one will ever touch us,’ ” he said.
“They wanted to do something. But experience had shown them in the mine that people that put their head above the parapet got shot.
“They needed that money to pay the bills. The loss for them would have been considerable if they had got fired.”
Carol said: “They all had mortgages to pay and families to raise. What were they going to do if they raised the flag and were told, ‘On your bike.’ Because that is what happened.
“If anybody challenged [management], that is it, mate, you were down the road.”
In the 17 months since the initial Pike River explosion, a catalogue of safety concerns and fears have been revealed, the most recent via the ongoing Royal Commission of Inquiry.
The management style employed at the mine – including from that of former chief executive Peter Whittall – have also been aired during sittings of the Royal Commission.
In December, Whittall was accused of bullying his staff, with former mine safety and training manager Neville Rockhouse describing him as autocratic and revealed the mine boss had mocked him during a PowerPoint presentation.
Rockhouse’s 21-year-old son, Ben, 21, died in the blast. A second son, Daniel, survived and dragged colleague Russell Smith to safety.
Mudge’s parents said they were “not oblivious” to growing talk on the West Coast about safety standards at Pike River prior to November 19, 2010.
“We have had over the years of Pike River, various people coming in and out of our business saying, ‘Wow, I have left the mine because I feel it is unsafe,’ ” Steve said.
“Not long before Stu rejoined Pike River Mine, we had a guy come into the yard who was a very experienced miner internationally and asked us for a job.
“This guy was outraged. He felt that the mine was in danger of exploding, threw his tools on the ground, walked out and came to us looking for a job.
“I advised Stu at the time and said, ‘You should talk to this guy, he is very experienced and has great concern about the mine exploding.’ ”
Mudge continued working at the mine, partly as there seemed to be a good response given by mine officials to any concerns raised.
Earlier this month, Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn told the Star-Times that Whittall was a convincing talker, a trait he said arrested concerns he had raised with mine management well before the first explosion.
Added Carol: “Here we were faced with Pike River. Their prospectus and their international and national image was huge.
“They [appeared to be] a big, professional, well-run organisation, had a flash website . . . how do you challenge that and get underneath and find out what is going on?”
Carol said that from an early age her son “loved being underground”.
Mudge initially started work on the Pike River mine site as a driller’s assistant for a contracting company, Valley Longwall.
After resigning he was approached about applying for a job at the nearby Solid Energy-run Springcreek mine.
“He said, ‘No mum, if I go to Springcreek I will have a job and that is it. If I go with Pike River I will be trained to be a miner . . . I want to learn it all, I want mining to be my career,’ ” Carol said.
“Stu was an only child. I always felt that when he went mining he had found his brothers.
“There is real brotherhood with mining and they watch each other’s backs when they are down there.”
Steve said on the “face of it”, working at Pike River was a good deal.
Miners were being reasonably paid, with some being given company shares and offered bonuses.
“Stu saw it as a career path,” he said. “And from the outside looking in, we looked at it and thought, great.”
Seventeen months on from the Pike River disaster, the Roses are honouring their son’s memory with an unflinching resolve to fight for justice.
Carol is secretary of the Pike River families group. The tight-knit group meets weekly, united in their fight for accountability over the tragedy and reforms to the mining industry.
The Roses are among the group’s majority who are calling for an end to delays for a recovery mission, with the couple recently selling their retail business in Greymouth so they could dedicate more time and energy to the cause.
“I feel like I am physically doing something to bring this about and make it happen,” Carol said.
Added Steve: “I can’t describe how proud I am of Carol in her role as secretary to the families.”
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