High Hazards Unit to be established

  • Kate Wilkinson

A new High Hazards Unit is to be established following reviews of the Department of Labour’s resources dedicated to the petroleum production and mining industries, Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson announced today.

The new unit will include three inspectors and a chief inspector for each industry, along with three further administrative and research support staff.

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.  

Ms Wilkinson says the Ministry for Economic Development undertook a review of health and safety and environmental legislation for offshore petroleum operations in 2010, which recommended the number of inspectors be increased.

The Department of Labour commissioned an independent internal review to assess its interactions with Pike River and advise on any areas that could be improved. The report has been presented to the Royal Commission.

“The report commended the approach undertaken by the two mines inspectors, noting they were competent, thorough and engaged frequently with Pike River,” Ms Wilkinson says.

“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 signalled 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.

“Establishing a High Hazards Unit will enable the Department to better attract and retain the highly skilled inspectors needed for these industries.

“The initial focus of the unit will be on the mining and petroleum/geothermal industries, but it could be expanded in the future to take on other sectors if required.”

Ms Wilkinson says the inspectorate structure and resources dedicated to mining will be further informed by the findings of the Royal Commission.

“The Government takes the safety of all mining operations in New Zealand seriously and is committed to fixing whatever problems exist.

“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.”

Copies of the independent review of the Department’s interactions with Pike River 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