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Key admits Pike deaths could have been prevented

Published: 5:36AM Monday November 05, 2012 Source: ONE News

Prime Minister John Key said the lives of 29 men killed in the Pike River mine tragedy might have been spared if the Department of Labour had "done its job better".

The calls follow the release of a damning report this afternoon from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the 2010 West Coast mine explosion.

Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson stepped down from her position following the report, saying it was the "right and honourable thing to do".

"While reports from the former Department of Labour (DOL) did not advise me of concerns about their ability to administer the health and safety legislation, 29 men lost their lives in this tragedy," she said.

Key told a press conference today while nothing from the report indicated Wilkinson was responsible, the Department of Labour could have "potentially" prevented the workers' deaths.

"It's possible that if the [DOL] had done their job better, it's possible those men wouldn't have died."

The mother of one of the men killed in the explosion told TV ONE's Close Up said Wilkinson was right to step down.

"Sure the company was at fault, but the Department of Labour were the watchdogs, and as far as I'm concerned, the watchdog was asleep under the table," Carol Rose said, mother of Stuart Mudge said.

Report findings

After 10 weeks of public hearings over nine months, the commission report gave 16 recommendations in its summary. The four main points are:

- The tragedy was preventable, with the company ignoring warnings of explosive gas levels.

- The report criticised the company's drive for coal production before the mine was ready and before health and safety systems were in place.

- It said emergency management in mines needs urgent attention and operators should be required by law to have emergency plans in place.

- And it recommended a crown agency focussed solely on workplace safety and health be set up for all industries.

Read the full report on the Royal Commission website here.

For the full recommendations click here


Key said on behalf of the Government, he deeply regretted what had happened in the disaster.

"I apologise to the families, friends and loved ones of the deceased men for the role this lack of regulatory effectiveness played in the tragedy."

The Prime Minister said the Government accepted there were systematic failures in the regulatory regime across successive governments.

"The Government will be broadly accepting those recommendations and will be working to implement them as quickly as possible."

Chris Finlayson, who has been appointed acting Labour Minister, said in accepting the recommendations, the Government had taken action by completing safety audits and boosting workplace health and safety funding by $37 million.

"In the two years since this tragedy, concerted action has been taken to improve safety in mines and all other work places.

"The Government has also set a target to reduce deaths and injuries in the workplace by 25% by 2020, and has set up an independent taskforce to review the health and safety system in this country."

Labour leader David Shearer said he backed the report's recommendations and called for urgent action to be taken.

"We have long advocated for changes to improve workers' safety, including the reinstatement of check inspectors in mines."

West Coast Green MP Kevin Hague said it was time to put workers first in occupational health and safety.

"The absorption of the Department of Labour into the newly formed Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment risks further diminishing the regulatory oversight of occupational health and safety risks.
 
Hague said the recommendation for a stand-alone crown agency solely focused on health and safety was "essential".

 

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