GIven the state of the mining industry in New Zealand and the continuing fall out from the Pike River disaster, I am amazed that a major industry player has chosen to attack safety regulations. My amazement does not stem so much from the fact that there are still people around who are prepared to criticize the changes now happening in the industry, but that they can have gall to do so after THEIR mine was shut down for that very reason.
But that is precisely what Bernie O’Leary, General Manager of Oceana Gold, did pn Thursday. Oceana Gold, a company that has operations near Reefton on the West Coast of the South Island, in Otago at Macraes and also near Waihi in the North Island
New Zealand is not in a position where it can afford the consequences of a serious mining accident, whether that is an occupational safety and health related issue, an environmental issue or something else. We are a small country whose environment is well regarded by tourists and tourism venture operators, and whom rely on New Zealand maintaining its reputation as such. We are a country whose occupational safety and health has enough problems on its hands without adding badly run mines to the list. Add to that the poor state of the economy, as shown by continuing job losses and sluggish economies overseas and it is little wonder that this latest indiscretion is not being well received.
And nor should it be. The shadow of Pike River looms across the mining industry on the whole. Although it happened in a coal mine where the operating conditions are different in terms of the likelihood of explosions underground to a gold mine, there are plenty of other hazards around that need to be taken into consideration:
- Access – particularly relevant in this case since the article says that trucks came close to going down a 50 metre drop on the access road.
- Vehicle servicing, storage and operation – maintaining the heavy equipment of a mine is no small task.
- Staffing the mine – are the staff trained and resourced properly? Are there adequate medical and other facilities nearby in case of an accident or other emergency?
- Environmental impacts – things such as tailings dams, remediation under the Resource Management Act are just a couple of issues, but what about things like heavy fuel leaks, disposal of rubbish and protecting nearby ecosystems?
The mining industry does not need people like Bernie O’Leary saying such irresponsible things such as this. I have already highlighted the levels of concern about existing operations. I have highlighted the post-Pike River Mine challenges regarding mining. Would Mr O’Leary survive in Australia, where the industry is in much healthier shape than it currently is in New Zealand, and where a Pike River type disaster would finish just about anyone?
I sincerely hope that Mr O’Leary learns his lesson. 29 killed people in a single mining accident is something that I thought happened in other countries and that New Zealand is better than that. I do regret to say that I might have misplaced my trust.