The move to finally increase the number of people checking on the safety of workers in our mines through the creation of a High Hazards Unit is long overdue.
Kevin Hague has been putting a lot of pressure on the Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson through Oral Questions and debates highlighting the Government’s inaction to improve the safety of underground workers after Pike River.
The standard response from Ms Wilkinson to Green questioning over our current health and safety regime has been to kick everything to touch until the Royal Commission reports.
This is not good enough. The changes National introduced in the 1990s were criticised at the time for pushing worker safety into the background. Basically health and safety is now the responsibility of employers. The problem with this approach is the variability of employers attention to safety. The other problem is who is actually checking up to see if our mines are being run in a safe manner.
For the last month, New Zealand has been reduced to just one inspector of mines person after Kevin Poynter left for Australia. After questioning from Kevin Hague yesterday, it turns out there a replacement has been found.
However the really worrying point about this is that during the Pike River hearings it turns out that in 2009 a third inspector retired. No replacement was found at the time. No replacement was found after Pike River. Finally, after the heat of a Minister being put under pressure in the House we have some action.
Other moves – such as re-instating check inspectors and making certain safety is our top priority – should not have to wait till the Royal Commission reports.