White tells of strained relationship with Whittall

DOUBTS about former Pike River Coal chief executive officer Peter Whittall’s management style continue to emerge from an inquiry into the Pike River mine disaster, with former general manager Doug White labelling his former boss a “dodgy git.”
White tells of strained relationship with Whittall White tells of strained relationship with Whittall White tells of strained relationship with Whittall White tells of strained relationship with Whittall White tells of strained relationship with Whittall

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Lauren Barrett

White continued giving evidence yesterday at the third phase of the Royal Commission inquiry into the Pike River mine explosion.

White only spent a total of ten months at the mine before the explosion took the lives of 29 men but quickly became dissatisfied in his role at Pike.

Under examination from lawyer Nigel Hampton, the commission heard how White, three days before the explosion, had sent a personal email labelling Whittall “still a dodgy git.”

“I'm interested in the word ‘still’ … does that rather carry the implication that you'd seen him in that role as a dodgy git for a time?” Hampton asked.

“The short answer is yes,” White said.

Later in the day, under cross-examination from lawyer Simon Mount, White admitted there was a level of “discord” between him and Whittall.

“I didn’t have a disagreement directly with Mr Whittall … it’s not as if we were at each other’s throat or anything like that,” White said.

“I tried to maintain a professional business relationship irrespective of some of the things that had been said.

“When I wrote that email I wasn’t entirely happy with, as I say, with the overall relationship between myself and him.”

In a police interview, following the explosion, the commission heard how White had labelled Whittall “overbearing” and “dictatorial”.

White never recalled anyone standing up to Whittall despite him overseeing “so many stuff ups”

While witnesses said the mine had improved significantly under White’s management, the commission heard that by September 2010 White had become deeply unsatisfied.

In the lead-up to the disaster White had sent an email to a recruitment agency which stated: “Currently anything is of interest.”

“My level of satisfaction was starting to wane a wee bit with some of the things that had been happening,” White said.

“It appeared that in that case nothing much was going to change.

“I will point out that at no time was I unhappy with what actually was happening at the mine … but there was just certain things that were starting to eat at me.”

White told the commission he had become annoyed at the management structure at Pike River.

Only half of the managers were reporting to him which made him feel “unnecessary.”

“Only having half the managers reporting to me I actually started to question if I was adding value and thought well maybe I could add value somewhere else,” White said.

Despite feeling unhappy, White told himself to “harden” up and decided to stay on at Pike River.

White also shed light on the blame culture at Pike.

“There was a blame culture when I arrived at Pike River Coal,” White said.

“I tried to get rid of that culture, but it certainly existed.

“It was always someone’s fault. Rather than looking to find a remedy it was easier to blame people.”

White said there was pressure to produce coal but Pike was working towards reducing the pressure.

“There’s always pressure to produce and it’s how you deal with that pressure,” he said.

“We’d started down that path by introducing a very reliable mining machine into the system … we were taking steps to try and alleviate that pressure.”

Later in the day the commission was told about safety concerns White had voiced to New Zealand-based consultancy Minserv International via email.

In his email, White expressed the “two main needs at Pike”

“The first is to ensure as far as practicable the mine is compliant, now and into the future and secondly, statutory officials and others understand how to apply and maintain compliance,” White wrote.

“This is where I had the most difficulty; I find basic non-compliances every time I go below ground.”

When directed to explain his safety concerns in the email, White said he was referring to things like “stone dusting not done in certain cases where stoppings had been built.”

“They hadn't been built to a high standard, or to a good standard,” White said.

White continued to slam the reporting hierarchy at Pike River, labelling the system “poorly organised and poorly regimented.”

There were times in the mine when levels of methane in non-restricted zones surpassed 0.25%, however White admitted he was never made aware of the above normal methane recordings.

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