Labour Leader Andrew Little's idea for a law change to give Solid Energy a legal exemption to any liabilities that might arise out of a re-entry to the mine is hypocritical and unsafe, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith said today.
“It would be extraordinary to make an exemption from the Health and Safety at Work Act from the very place where 29 workers lost their lives from inadequate standards that triggered the new law. This is a bid by Mr Little to outplay Winston Peters politically rather than a principled stand about the importance of a consistent approach to workplace safety,” Dr Smith says.
“The Government’s position is that the mine should only be re-entered if it can be done safely and complies with New Zealand’s updated workplace safety laws. We do a disservice to the memory of the 29 miners who lost their lives by not learning the lessons of the tragedy that you cannot play fast and loose with underground safety of methane rich coalmines.
“Based on the advice I have received, I remain very doubtful of claims that the mine can be safely re-entered. The mine has 100,000 cubic meters of methane and is likely to have residual heat sources capable of triggering an explosion if there was a source of oxygen. There is the added risk of rock falls from unstable strata fractured by the 2010 explosions.
“The fundamental flaw of the mine having only one egress route remains. The Government has already spent more than $5 million trying to find a safe re-entry method. Over 600 pages of reports commissioned by Solid Energy analysed the risks and concluded it could not be done safely. There is a significant difference between someone saying re-entry might be possible compared with company directors taking legal responsibility.
“Exempting the Pike Mine re-entry project from New Zealand’s workplace safety laws would set a dangerous precedent. Labour argued these laws were not tough enough and is now being hypocritical in wanting, for political purposes, to exempt the Pike Mine re-entry project. Either the mine can be safely entered under existing law, or it should not occur.”