Pike River Mine Disaster in New Zealand

Published: 2017-10-31 09:15:31
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Introduction

The Pike River mine tragedy was preventable since its primary cause was the use of the pit before it was ready. The utilization of the mine before its completion created the circumstances that led to the explosion. Moreover, there were safety reports and possible safety accountability issues that the mine’s management ignored or was too busy to respond. According to Macfie (2013), there were 21 allegations of methane reaching explosive levels, which continued up to the morning of the disaster. Additionally, poor drainage and ventilation systems contributed to this catastrophe coupled with poor management of the mine’s health and safety standards.

Contribution of Safety Reports and Safety Accountability Issues to the Explosion

Apparently, Pike River Company put production before safety, a situation that led to the death of 29 employees, 16 miners and 13 contractors (Lamare, Lamm, McDonnell & White, 2015). In the beginning, Pike River Coal Mine ignored the 14-borehole exploration program and other subsequent boreholes that availed incomplete geological information, which contributed to adverse unexpected ground conditions obstructing mine development. Additionally, a down thrust between faults, which created a zone of sandstone instead of coal, and the crumple of the bottom part of the ventilation shaft delayed the construction. Such incidents were clear indicators of danger, and the management should have paid close attention to them (Macfie, 2013). However, instead of searching for a solution, they built a bypass to reconnect to the upper part of the ventilation shaft, 50 meters above the pit bottom.

In October 2010, the company enlarged the width of the extraction area from 30 meters to 45 meters despite a safety report by a consultant geotechnical engineer that indicated that the act risked a major roof collapse. A significant roof fall did occur on 30 October, which caused a pressure wave that destroyed the stopping in the hydro crosscut purposed to separate intake and return air. Consequently, methane readings increased even though no explosion occurred. However, the company chose to continue hydro mining into November without reassessments of other roof collapses. Furthermore, safety reports continued to record the rise in methane levels up to the day of the explosion. However, the mine’s management ignored these reports and even introduced a two-shift hydro mining with the installation and commission of a new fan that improved short-lived ventilation to the hydro panel.

Thirdly, the company failed to review an opposition from a ventilation consultant to the relocation of fans underground at the bottom of the ventilation shaft. Coincidentally, this was against the original mine plan, which specified two fans constructed on the mountainside beside a ventilation shaft. Clearly, placing the fan underground made reaching it impossible in the case of a calamity. Furthermore, the fan’s key electrical equipment and motor could only operate in the open air. Additionally, the company’s management failed to heed to the original scheme to remove methane from the seam before commencing operations. Instead, the management bled out gas out of the coal stratum from the in-layer drill pits used to identify where coal lay and surged via a pipeline that the directors knew was inefficient and over pressured.

Similarly, the management received a monthly report comprising a health and safety part. However, this reports failed to cover hazards significant to catastrophes, for example, an explosion. The company did not assess paramount design and safety issues. Apparently, in a meeting just four days before the disaster, the mine manager dismissed gas management as a significant problem. Moreover, the board lacked operational knowledge, which limited their capability to assess this issue. Additionally, the health and safety master plan was still a draft awaiting technical input from other managers.

Finally, even with occasional incident reports to the management, the investigations to issues were haphazard, which resulted in writing off a backlog of investigations in October 2010. Additionally, the company failed to analyze systematically other information from the mine, for instance, methane readings and address these problems. Particularly, there were 21 accounts of methane reaching explosive levels and 27 records of lower but probable catastrophic levels. These reports persisted until the dawn of the explosion, but the management failed to heed to them.  Apparently, the company’s effort to increase production regardless of whether mining occurred in a healthy and secure environment blinded their accountability towards investigating these safety reports and rectifying issues thereof (Lamare et al., 2015).

Conclusion

To conclude, it is clear that Pike River Mine’s management had full knowledge of the danger looming from operating in a mine before its completion. Reports delivered as early as during its initial construction stages indicated the operations were risky. Subsequent incident reports, opposition from safety consultants, and security accountability issues that the management ignored all showed that the company needed to put safety measures in place to avoid catastrophic occurrences, for instance, an explosion. However, the company chose to dismiss or ignore these reports and instead put production before safety. Consequently, a disaster struck and New Zealand lost 29 lives.

References

Lamare, J. R., Lamm, F., McDonnell, N., & White, H. (2015). Independent, dependent, and employee: Contractors and New Zealand’s Pike River Coal Mine disaster. Journal of Industrial Relations, 57(1), 72-93.

Macfie, R. (2013). Tragedy at Pike River Mine: How and why 29 Men Died.

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