The Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy released its final report on 5 November 2012.  The Commission concluded that the tragedy was preventable and that a combination of factors contributed to the deaths of 29 men in the Greymouth mine in November 2010.  One set of factors relate to Pike River Coal Ltd's (Pike) approach to business operations, while the second set of factors point to an overall lack of regulatory effectiveness and a failure by the then Department of Labour (now part of MBIE) to ensure that the mine was operating under adequate health and safety systems.

The Commission has made 16 recommendations in its report, covering administrative and regulatory reform and changes to mining legislation and emergency management.

The Commission's recommendations

  • The Commission called for a number of reforms to reduce the risks of future tragedies, not just confined to the mining context. Its recommendations include the following:
  • Creating a new regulator concerned solely with health and safety (to be a Crown entity with an expert board accountable to the Labour Minister and working closely with MBIE employers and workers).
  • Updating the mining regulations, with changes to be progressed by an expert mining task force (Queensland and New South Wales were mentioned as providing good precedents).
  • Increasing worker participation in managing health and safety, through legislative change and guidance from the new sector regulator.
  • Making major changes to emergency management.  The Commission recommended this start with a joint review by organisations that responded at Pike River, which could then suggest amendments to the co-ordinated incident management system, leading finally to the implementation of a programme of testing and simulation of emergencies to iron out any problems.
  • Reviewing the statutory responsibilities of directors for health and safety to reflect their governance responsibilities, including their responsibility to hold management to account.

Aside from administrative and regulatory change, the Commission also urged directors to rigorously review their organisation’s compliance with health and safety laws and called for managers to access best practice guidance on health and safety in the workplace.

Consequences of the report

  • Government response: Prime Minister John Key made a public apology to the families and friends of the deceased for the role a lack of regulatory effectiveness played in the tragedy.  Key stated that the Government accepts there were systemic failures in the regulatory regime across successive governments, and that in the time since the enactment of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, the influence of mining inspectorates had been eroded.
  • Ministerial change:  Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson announced her resignation as soon as the report was publicly released and before she could face any questions at Question Time.  Chris Finlayson has been appointed acting Minister of Labour.  Ms Wilkinson retains the portfolios she holds as Minister of Conservation, Minister for Food Safety and Minister of Immigration.
  • Legislative and administrative changes:  Key announced that the Government will be broadly accepting the Commission's recommendations and working to implement them as quickly as possible.  A few of the recommendations, such as the establishment of a new regulator, will require further Government investigation before they can be implemented.  Acting Labour Minister Chris Finlayson has announced that MBIE-Labour is currently in the middle of major restructuring around how it delivers health and safety regulation in general. 

Steps already taken  

The Government has already started to progress some of the actions recommended by the Commission. For example:

  • In June 2012, the Government announced the membership of a newly established Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety, charged with reviewing whether the overall workplace health and safety system - including legislation, regulation, incentives and enforcement – is working effectively to reduce workplace injury and death.  The Taskforce will make recommendations to the Government by 30 April 2013.
  • In September 2012, the Government introduced the Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill into the House, which would (amongst other things) require mine permit applicants to demonstrate that their mine will be safe as part of the initial permit assessment process.
  • In August 2011, the Government announced the establishment of the High Hazards Unit, which creates further mining inspectorate staff and research roles to improve the Government's capabilities in the petroleum production and mining industries.

The full report of the Commission can be accessed here.