Pike not up to Qld standards: White

FORMER Pike River Coal general manager Doug White told a Royal Commission of Inquiry in New Zealand yesterday the Pike River mine would not comply with Queensland mine regulations – particularly its limited emergency exit provisions.
Pike not up to Qld standards: White Pike not up to Qld standards: White Pike not up to Qld standards: White Pike not up to Qld standards: White Pike not up to Qld standards: White

Underground at Pike River Coal's namesake mine in New Zealand a few months before the mining disaster which claimed 29 lives.

Lauren Barrett

During his second day of giving evidence at the inquiry on the Pike River mine disaster White said the lack of a legitimate second emergency exit from the mine would mean it would not comply with Queensland regulations, as Queensland mines required two egresses with fresh air.

White also admitted the amount of inexperienced people at the mine was not a concern for him but was rather an “issue”

“There was a fair percentage of inexperienced people at Pike River,” White said.

“It was an issue that had to be addressed.”

During his testimony White said the 41 minute delay in initiating an emergency response after the initial explosion was because he didn’t notice the warning signs, despite communication and power systems at the mine failing.

“At that time there was no actual physical signs … It’s not a usual instance, but it had happened before and it was about confirming that we actually did have an incident,” he said.

During the inquiry White was shown video footage of the second explosion at the mine, which happened five days after the first explosion

White said the second explosion was “far more significant" than the first, as revealed by a robot which had been placed in the mine.

The robot captured footage of another robot in the mine, which weighed more than 300 kilograms and had been blown at least 100 metres by the force of the second blast.

White confirmed he was not aware of any Pike River Coal documents covering what to do in the event of an explosion at the mine.

Also giving evidence at day three of the inquiry was former PRC safety and training manager Neville Rockhouse, who revealed his concerns about making the ventilation shaft at the mine into a second escape exit.

After a spate of incidents and mine manager Kobus Low resigning, Rockhouse said it was decided that the mine ventilation shaft would become a second escape route.

Rockhouse said he was not included in the decision making process of using the ventilation shaft as a makeshift escape route, which was originally put in place for maintenance use.

Rockhouse said it had no mechanical hoist to pull injured people up.

“Once I found out about this plan, I proactively began to fight against it,” he said.

Rockhouse informed the commission of the visible flaws in using the ventilation as an escape method.

“Only eight people at a time could climb that ladder according to the manufacturer’s safe working load,” he said.

“This would mean that the remainder had to wait in a highly dangerous bottleneck under the ladder while their self-rescue units were being depleted.

"You did not send people to a bottleneck in an emergency," he said.

He said he told all department heads of his concerns but they were dismissed.

In 2009, a year before the explosion, Rockhouse said a group of people at the mine went to test the ascent, but even with near perfect conditions no one could reach the surface.

“I discussed my concerns with Mr Whittall and even arranged with him to attend this particular test,” Rockhouse said.

“On the day of the planned drill, despite the fact that he was onsite, he failed to attend even after being reminded.”

The inquiry heard that Rockhouse’s request to deliver training to the management team on the emergency management system in 2009 was dismissed by Whittall.