New Zealand Forms High Hazard Inspection Team

The unit's initial focus will be mining and petroleum/geothermal industries, Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson announced.

New Zealand's minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, announced Aug. 17 that her department is forming a High Hazards Unit of experts to conduct inspections in mining and petroleum/geothermal industries. She said the Pike River mine disaster that killed 29 miners spurred the move, following a review of the Department of Labour's existing resources focused on those industries.

The new unit will include three inspectors and a chief inspector for each industry, along with three further administrative and research support staffers. It will be funded through surpluses in the Health and Safety in Employment Memorandum Account at a cost of approximately $1.5 million in new funding annually, Wilkinson said.

The department's "independent internal review" of how its current two mining safety inspectors interacted with the Pike River mine operator has been presented to the Royal Commission investigating the disaster. "The report commended the approach undertaken by the two mines inspectors, noting they were competent, thorough and engaged frequently with Pike River," Wilkinson said. "It also made some recommendations, including that a national reporting structure be adopted led by a chief inspector and that more emphasis be put on auditing health and safety systems. The government has signaled its intention to grow both the petroleum and mining industries, and it's important that the Department of Labour has the resources and structure in place to oversee them."

She said the new unit's focus could be expanded to additional industries in the future. "The government takes the safety of all mining operations in New Zealand seriously and is committed to fixing whatever problems exist," she added. "The Pike River tragedy was certainly a catalyst for the department to take a close look at what resources and expertise it has available to the mining sector. Having considered the recommendations of the reviews, the government decided to establish the High Hazards Unit to improve the department's capabilities while we await the Royal Commission's findings. The commission is best placed to make recommendations about any regulatory changes that might be needed once it has heard and evaluated all the evidence."

The independent review and an internal paper proposing a new approach to the high hazard sector can be found at http://www.dol.govt.nz/News/Media/pikeriver/index.asp.

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