Safety concerns over Pike River mine re-entry

It’s not surprising to hear that there are safety concerns over the planned re-entry of the Pike River mine. Police will not be in the initial re-entry, limiting the chances of finding forensic evidence about the cause of the explosions and the fate of the 29 miners who were killed there in November 2010.

Stuff – Pike River re-entry: Police won’t be among first inside mine after risk assessment raised safety concerns

Police will not send staff in with the first Pike River mine re-entry team following a risk assessment.

The Government gave re-entry plans the all-clear in November. Minister Andrew Little said at the time a number of dangers still remained, but extensive advice had shown re-entry to the drift using the existing access tunnel of the mine would be “by far the safest option”.

Police said in September they would enter the tunnel only if the mine re-entry plan was approved by both the Police Commissioner and an independent review.

The police spokesman they were continuing to discuss the re-entry plan with the Pike River Recovery Agency, mine experts and Worksafe. The most recent discussion with experts took place on Friday, and discussions were “ongoing”.

“Police will go into the mine when we know it is safe and we know that there is no risk to our staff, or any others who are in the mine with us.

There will always be some risks going back into the mine. The police will presumably have to assess whether the potential benefits of investigating inside the mine justify the risks.

“This is a complex, technical process and we are absolutely committed to supporting the work to re-enter the mine, just as we are to ensuring safety of our staff. We are currently developing training to be given to staff, and have established a dedicated team to support the police role in the re-entry operation. This work will continue in the coming weeks.”

Christchurch Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Collins has been seconded to represent police in the Pike River Recover Agency. He could not be contacted for comment on Tuesday.

He said in September if re-entry was achieved, police would complete a scene examination, recover any bodies, and complete any other processes required on behalf of the coroner.

Police decided in 2013 to leave the criminal investigation open until the scene could be examined.

Any new evidence they found would be used to determine whether charges could be laid.

I really doubt whether evidence can be found that would support charges being laid. I don’t know what they expect to find in there.

More funding announced for rural road safety

While most Ministers are on holiday Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter has been busy promoting road safety. Today she announced extra funding for rural state highways across Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu-Wanganui and the West Coast. This follows earlier programmes to improve roads in The original Safety Boost Programme which made improvements in Northland, Taranaki, Manawatū-Wanganui, Otago and Southland.

This looks timed to try to address road toll news over the holiday period and end of year.

Extra Boost for Rural Road Safety

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter today announced an extension of the Government’s Safety Boost Programme to prevent deaths and serious injuries on rural New Zealand roads.

“The Boost Programme will target 11 rural State highways that might not have high levels of traffic but still have plenty of risks like sharp corners and narrow stretches,” said Julie Anne Genter.

“The Boost Programme includes simple safety upgrades that can be installed quickly over the summer period, such as rumble strips roadside safety barriers in high-risk locations, shoulder widening, and improved signage.

“Rumble strips can reduce fatal run-off-road crashes by up to 42 percent. Shoulder widening at high risk sights can reduce serious crashes by up to 35 percent.

This summer’s Safety Boost is part of the $1.4 billion Safe Network Programme (SNP) – a collaborative, prioritised programme of proven safety improvements on high risk routes across New Zealand. The 670 kilometres of road upgrades in the Boost Programme is additional to the 870 kilometres of upgrades to high volume, high-risk State Highways in the SNP.

Extra Safety Boost for Manawatu-Wanganui Roads

The NZ Transport Agency will invest $20 million in lower cost safety improvements on rural State highways. This will include five Manawatu-Wanganui roads:

  • SH56: Makerua (SH57) to Palmerston North
  • SH57: SH3 to SH56
  • SH3: Palmerston North to Ashhurst
  • SH4: Whanganui to Raetihi
  • SH54: SH3 to Feilding

Extra Safety Boost for West Coast Roads

This will include two West Coast roads:

  • SH6 and SH67: Murchison to Westport
  • SH7: Hanmer Springs to Reefton

Extra Safety Boost for Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay Roads

The NZ Transport Agency will invest $20 million in lower cost safety improvements on rural State highways. This will include four Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay roads:

  • SH2: Wairoa to Gisborne
  • SH35: Gisborne to Tolaga Bay
  • SH2: Gisborne to Matawai
  • SH5: SH2 to Te Haroto.

This can’t be annual budget spending. It must either be from a general roading fund or from some roading related tax.

Internet – let’s be careful out there

Tech blogger Juha Saarinen writes in the Herald: A safer internet? Not going to happen

Yesterday was the Safer Internet Day 2016, an annual worldwide awareness campaign that promotes online security. It’s a laudable effort, with NetSafe coordinating the New Zealand effort: https://www.netsafe.org.nz/safer-internet-day

There are plenty of good tips and advice to look at on the NetSafe SID 2016 site, so please visit and have a read.

One of the questions NetSafe sought to answer was if 2015 was better or worse year for internet security than 2014; the organisation noted that there’s not enough accurate information to answer that accurately – which is fair enough; having covered IT security extensively for the past few years, my answer would unfortunately be “it depends”.

Some things are better: your personal computer should be relatively safe this year.

Provided you keep the software on it up to date that is, avoid installing too many things and especially stay clear of launching files emailed to you or from websites you don’t know.

But there’s a number of things to be wary about, as Saarinen details.

The biggest danger on the Internet is not the Internet, it’s people with bad intent, who have a far greater reach than in the real world.

Online blues – let’s be careful out there.

 

Little better on Q & A (Workplace Safety)

Labour leader Andrew Little was interviewed on Q & A yesterday. It focussed on a topic he knows well due to his twenty year union background, and he did a much better job than i his heavily criticised effort on The Nation the previous day (see The Nation: Little and Labour repeating failed strategies).

In particular when host Greg Boyed tried to bring up worm farming…

Try to explain to me, as somebody who’s not in Parliament, how on earth—You know, the media’s got plenty of comedy value out of this with the worm farming and that – how is something like that even allowed to slip through? Surely someone must have seen that in the early stages – ‘Right, we’ll push that aside. We don’t want that mentioned in the same time.’ How did that happen?

…Little dismissed the meduia beatup and turned to a positive approach to improving the Bill instead.

I don’t want to get heavily into that. Something would have happened between the officials and the minister, and Michael Woodhouse has worn enough over the last few days. I would rather work with Michael and whoever else in his government and his support parties…

That looks like a significant and welcome change of approach from Little.

Video: Workplace Safety – Labour (10:24)

This followed an interview with Michael Woodhouse on the same topic – see Woodhouse on the Workplace Health and Safety Bill.

Transcript of the Andrew Little interview:

GREG Welcome back to Q + A. Well, we heard Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse before the break. Let’s bring in Labour Leader Andrew Little. You heard what he had to say – that the overall feeling he wanted to put forth is this is not set in granite – there’s a lot of room for this to change. What are your thoughts and what do you have to say?

ANDREW The truth is, we have one chance to pass the law and to get it right. And that’s going to happen sometime this week. And what’s important for public confidence in the law is that we get it right now. So I don’t accept his view that we can now go through the law change process, have it ridiculed, if only for some parts of it, and then somehow through the consultation process that will follow, that will restore public confidence, because it won’t.

So what the minister needs to do now – and the support parties who are part of propping up this Government – is we actually need to take the next couple of days to see if we can thrash out what a good law is going to look like so we can very quickly restore public confidence in it.

GREG Okay, without burying people in legislation, red tape and a lot of cost, how can it be changed from here so it’s actually going to mean less people are killed in the workplace?

ANDREW Well, what we can’t have, for the sake of public confidence, is this process now where the minister can designate industries ‘high hazard’ or ‘low risk’. Because what we’ve seen with that in the last few days is that’s a very arbitrary line to draw.

And you get the silly absurdities where worm farming, which according to the minister, has caused deaths, is regarded as more high risk than the industry that has killed over 100 people in the last three years, and that’s farming, whether it’s dairy, beef or whatever.

GREG The thing I’m finding frustrating, and I think most people are, is you go, ‘Okay, on one hand, farming is dangerous – a lot of people die. But they’re not going to be under this. They’re not going to feel the weight of this. They’re not going to get any safer. What am I missing? Why is that happening?

ANDREW I think the myth is that the average farm now is kind of Mum, Dad and the kids and the odd bit of farm labour that comes on. That’s actually not the average farm anymore.

The average farm is a properly-run business and there’s labour coming and going all the time. And so they are not the three or four operation. They can be a dozen, they can be up to 20. They might fall under that threshold that the Government’s put in place to try and exclude them, but they still need a culture and an environment in the workplace where the health and safety issues can be talked about.

And I’ve spoken to farm labourers who tell me that if only they knew when they were going to work on the farm that there was a colleague, you know, somebody at their equal – not the farm owner, but a colleague – who could induct them in about the health and safety and what the expectations were, that would make the difference, and that’s what we need. And the legislation needs to reflect that.

GREG Having said that, there are still operations that are Mum, Dad and the kids or two or three people. To have a health and safety officer foisted upon them is absurd, and the cost of it and the legislation of it – that would be absurd, wouldn’t it?

ANDREW So if the legislation is drafted so that was optional – if there were any employed workers there, paid workers there or contractors who say, ‘Yeah, I just want to have somebody who I can go to,’ yeah, let’s do it. The reality is in the small, more intimate businesses, that won’t happen, in the same way that hasn’t happened under previous legislation.

But there will be places, and I think of workplaces of the 10 to 20 level, where, actually, that is real, where you get a group of people – they are working there. Even at that level, people want to know that there is a system that they can contribute to, where their voice is heard and that they can raise issues with impunity, and that’s important too.

In the end, good health and safety comes down to good workplace culture, and even quite small workplaces still need a good workplace culture. The legislation, and certainly now the debate we’re having over it because of the mishandling of the categorisation, is undermining confidence in this new legislation, which is the last thing we need given what’s happened that’s led us to have this legislation in the first place.

GREG Labour was on board with this until July. When, where and why did it go wrong as far as you were concerned?

ANDREW When that legislation first came in, we were pretty happy with it. We thought there were some changes at the margins but it covered everybody. And there was enough in there that for the very small businesses, of course it wouldn’t be onerous for them; they’ll carry on sorting out the way they operated.

Then the Government was determined to get exemptions, and that’s actually what’s driven all of the consensus flying apart.They were desperate to exclude small businesses, and in reality they were desperate to exclude farmers because we know that the farming lobby was very powerful in saying, ‘We don’t want to be constrained by this.’

So they excluded small businesses, then they realised they still had to include high-risk businesses – well, farming and agriculture still is high-risk, so then they had to find a way to exclude that. And it’s kind of exception upon exception upon exemption that’s led to the distortions that’s led to the absurdities that we’re now debating and is now undermining confidence.

GREG I want to talk about the families of Pike River, who we saw at Parliament this week, understandably frustrated with the delay, and at the end of it, frustrated with the outcome. That said, and with the absolute greatest of respect to the families there, apart from something like corporate manslaughter being installed, is any of this ever going to be satisfactory to them? And I think most people would understand the answer would be no.

ANDREW It’s not just the Pike River families. We had families from the forestry industry there whose family members had been killed in the forestry industry, and we had a couple of others there as well, even representatives from the timber industry and timber processes from 20 years ago, where poisoning actually ended up killing people.

So it was a cross section, and I think they are people who, because they have experienced the grief of the loss of somebody who has gone to work and not come home, they are a champion for saying we’ve got to get workplace health and safety right.

This is our chance after the tragedy of Pike River, to get it right, and I would just say to the minister, if you’re serious about getting a law that he can be proud of – and he should do, because I don’t think he’s the one at fault here – let’s take the next couple of days with him, and I’m more than happy to meet with him and use the benefit of my 20 years’ experience in this area doing health and safety in the workplace, representing families at coroners’ inquests, to get this law right so that we can get it through Parliament.

I don’t think it’s going to be good for this minister and his government for us to have another day, two days, three days, who knows how long this will take to debate through Parliament, and continue what is undermining confidence in what should be a good piece of legislation.

GREG The aims they’ve got – 25% less deaths in five years, by 2021 – is that enough? That seems not terribly ambitious to me.

ANDREW If you get the culture right—It’s interesting the minister talked about the forestry industry. What happened in the forestry industry is that they finally had a wake-up call and they finally found some leaders within that industry that said, ‘This can’t go on,’ and they worked with worker representatives, the CTU and others, they did an inquiry, they got some good recommendations, and the forestry companies and even down at the contractor level committed to improving workplace health and safety in that industry.

And that’s making the difference. But they had the impetus to do it. Well, we need a piece of legislation – this law, the Health and Safety Reform Bill – that is the impetus to every employer and every worker, saying, ‘Yep, we get it now. We’ve got the message. We’re all committed to lifting our performance and we’ll make the difference.’

GREG Are fines the way to go? Are penalties for people who don’t play it safe and do things right – is that something we should be looking at increasing?

ANDREW You want WorkSafe New Zealand, as the, kind of, police officer of all of this, to have some discretion about how they approach it. And what happens with a small business isn’t going to be identical with what happens with a large corporate in a high-risk industry. So you want some scope for discretion about warnings and education, but you do need a backstop, which is the more punitive measures that you take.

But, you know, I trust WorkSafe New Zealand to get it right, when it’s about working with businesses as well as the workforce, to lift our health and safety performance.

GREG So you sit down with the minister, which is unlikely, but you said you would. If you sat down with him, in a pithy sentence or two, what would you say needs to change between now and a few days to actually make this effective so people are going to stop dying on the job?

ANDREW Let’s make sure that the way the law is drafted gives the same message to everybody, and let’s trust people to get it right when it comes to implementation and trust WorkSafe to get it right when it comes to enforcing the rules.

GREG To an extent, are we being naïve to think we can do much more to the death toll than we’ve already done? You’ve got people, you’ve got heavy machinery, you’ve got dangerous situations in farms, you’ve got hills, you’ve got equipment that fails. You can’t legislate that risk away completely, can you?

ANDREW The question is why our farming sector has a bigger fatality record and more serious accidents than the agricultural industries in other countries. And bearing in mind too that in our agriculture industry, we have underreporting of incidents. And WorkSafe New Zealand did a survey and found that roughly a quarter of serious-harm accidents that actually happen are being reported.

There’s a whole heap not being reported, so the picture is probably worse than is being made out. We can do better. In the OECD, we rank fifth from the bottom in terms of workplace health and safety performance.

We can do better, we have to do better, we must do better. People are entitled to know when they go to work, they’ve got best chance than ever of returning home safe again at the end of it. That’s what it comes to.

GREG Try to explain to me, as somebody who’s not in Parliament, how on earth—You know, the media’s got plenty of comedy value out of this with the worm farming and that – how is something like that even allowed to slip through? Surely someone must have seen that in the early stages – ‘Right, we’ll push that aside. We don’t want that mentioned in the same time.’ How did that happen?

ANDREW I don’t want to get heavily into that. Something would have happened between the officials and the minister, and Michael Woodhouse has worn enough over the last few days. I would rather work with Michael and whoever else in his government and his support parties, left a message with Peter Dunne’s office on Friday.

We’ve had some back-channel talks with the Maori Party. I would rather be working with the Government and their support parties to get this right.

We arrive at Parliament on Tuesday, and we get something that we can all get behind and we can say to New Zealand, ‘Whatever happened, we’ve got this right now. We are all confident and pleased with it, and this will make a difference to New Zealand.’

Andrew Little on Workplace Health and Safety

On The Nation yesterday (replayed today Sunday on TV3 at 10 am) Labour leader Andrew Little was questioned by Lisa Owen about the Workplace Health and Safety Bill that’s currently going through Parliament.

Let’s move on to the Health and Safety Bill. Now, you’re opposed to it. But Peter Dunne told us that he can’t believe— and this is a quote from him. Labour’s ‘breath-taking hypocrisy’, ‘because however incremental, this bill does make things better for workers, he says. Are you playing politics with worker safety?

No, I’m not. Look, health and safety is an absolutely crucial part of, you know, good workplace relations and good workplace practice. After Pike River, the disaster and the tragedy that was Pike River, that wasn’t just about a big employer. It was about small employers and businesses of fewer than 20 workers. That was a disaster that was avoidable with good systems, but most importantly, good culture.

So the main thing about the Health and Safety Reform Bill was about getting things in place to have a good culture in the workplace, and there was a consensus about that, and what the bill was first introduced, it was actually in pretty good nick, and I sat on the select committee, and we heard employers, and National Party were very good.

Something has changed in the last few months, and I think what’s happened is that the National Party has decided, or their supporters in the farming lobbies have said, ‘We don’t want a bar of this.’ And even though that is the sector that has the worst record of fatalities and serious accidents, this government is bending over backwards to exclude our businesses and our farming businesses that actually need legislation like this to improve their performance.

So you would want all businesses to have a safety… health and safety officer, regardless of their size or the risk? All of them?

It’s about having, you know, the art of health and safety. What it makes it work is when front-line workers — the front-line workforce — owns it, understands it and is involved in it.

So would you like those front-line workers to have the option, whatever the size business they’re working in or the risk level, to have a health and safety officer?

They should have the right to have one if they want it, and the reason for that is that when you’re dealing with your, you know, health and safety issues, concerns you have about safety at work, actually, going to a peer, going to your equal in the workforce is a way better way to go than relying on a manager or the boss who may not know the full detail of it, which has been, unfortunately, practised in far too many fatal accidents in workplaces so far.

Yet, in saying that, you are mocking the Government. You know, you’re mocking the Government. But, at the same time, you want every worm farmer, every lavender farmer, and every butterfly farmer— if you want every business to have one of these reps — you want that?

Uh, yeah. No, let’s get this right. We had a— we had a bill originally that created the same rule for everybody. That was the right thing to do, and what it did was—

Including all those—? Including all those occupations I’ve just listed? Everybody? So they would be in the mix?

Give workers in small workplaces the right to have a health and safety representative if they wanted one. If they don’t want one, no big deal. But what the government has done is said… They’ve taken fright and said, ‘We want to exempt small businesses.’ Then they decided they needed to ensure that all high-risk industries were included. So they then had to come up for an exemption to the exemption. Then they decided that they didn’t want to upset the farmers. So now they’ve had to come up with an exception to the exception to the exemption. It’s just a mess. It is a total mess.

But you want, Mr Little, would add to compliance costs for small businesses, yet at the start of the year, you said you want to take the handbrake off small businesses. So which is it?

Small businesses have health and safety practices at the moment. Good small businesses, and I’ve visited a lot of them. They do health and safety already, and there are good businesses involved in the workforce.

But you support those regulations being tougher, and that’s more compliance, more red tape and more costs.

Having… Giving a workforce of a small business the right to have their go-to person on health and safety is not a compliance cost. There’s no compliance cost in it. It’s having a go-to person. It’s having a point person in the workplace. A new worker, in particular, comes in. Doesn’t quite get it. They know where to go to on issues of health and safety. That’s what you want. That what gets better health and safety performance.

But a lot of small businesses would say that is more red tape. That is not taking the handbrake off.

Good businesses are doing it already. It’s not a handbrake. It’s not an impediment to good business at all. What we— but what we see in some sectors — and farming is the classic one — tend to be smaller business. They have the worst health and safety. More than a third of the fatalities, workplace fatalities in New Zealand in the past five years, have come from farms. Why would we exclude farms from having the best possible standards and procedures for health and safety. It doesn’t make sense.

Source: Transcript: Labour Party leader Andrew Little

Link to video: Interview: Labour Leader Andrew Little