Pike River

September 8th, 2011 at 6:27 am by David Farrar

I’ve not been commenting on most of the evidence at the Royal Commission because it is the Commission’s job to come to conclusions based on the evidence.

But I have to say that on the basis of reports to date, I’ve been horrified by some of the evidence. No trial evacuations, lack of escape routes, the fact it took 45 minutes to even realise there had been an explosion, no answer on the emergency line, safety equipment not working. It must be horrific for the families to be hearing this evidence.

Also chilling has been the strength of the explosions. The Press reported:

Footage of three subsequent explosions at Pike River mine was also shown at the inquiry yesterday, including the second explosion at 2.36pm on November 24, which ended all hopes of the men’s survival.

White said the second explosion was of greater magnitude than the first, and blew a 300-kilogram robot inside the mine more than 100m.

My physics is too rusty to calculate what level of energy is needed to move a 300 kg object over 100 metres, but my gut reaction is absolutely unsurvivable. If the first explosion was anything like the second, then those down the mine hopefully died quickly. I guess this will be a key issue the Commission will form a view on.

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21 Responses to “Pike River”

  1. Lipo (229 comments) says:

    DPF – reading your first 2 paragraphs I do not understand what you have to be horrified at. Not one of these saftey factors at this stage has been shown to be a factor in the deaths of the miners.
    An escape route and emergency line is useless if you are already dead

    [DPF: Oh sure it is possible that in terms of this disaster they may not have made a difference. But would you want one of your family members going down a mine which does no evacuation drills, has faulty safety gear, an unmanned emergency line and the emergency exit being a 100 metre vertical climb]

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  2. Bed Rater (239 comments) says:

    “I’ve not been commenting on most of the evidence at the Pike River Royal Commission because it is the Commission’s job to come to conclusions based on the evidence”

    And you think that as a prominent NZ political blogger, your comments could affect the conclusions reached by the commission? Come off it.

    [DPF: No I did not say that. Incidentally I have had defence counsel complain about my comments during trials in the past.

    My point was that I am trying not to jump to conclusion off partial stories. The Cmsn hears all the evidence]

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  3. peterwn (3,271 comments) says:

    One feature of Rogernomics was to break down certification and inspection systems and allow companies who could generate the appropriate paperwork to have their own systems. I was involved with one of these operations and there were a few hair raising incidents when people commissioned electrical works that they were not competent to. Fortunately the only fatality was an inquisitive hedgehog who touched the end of a live cable (the wires were visible but somehow had not shorted). The manager concerned was not competent on electrical matters, next manager up was more concerned about his bonuses and the CEO’s hands were tied since the Board had graned significant autonomy to second level managers.

    This does show that some competence and safety control and regulation is necessary, the trick being to limit it to what is appropriate for an optimum safety outcome. Labour Party and unions would go for excessive smothering control.

    A problem is most NZ companies are of a size where major incidents happen infrequently. With a large multinational like Shell, serious incidents occur more frequently and the bean counters can put a cost on them – which is hair-raising. With Shell, there is a story that if there is a fatality, the country manager must personally present a report to Head Office within 48 hours or so. Whether he need bother with a return ticket was not mentioned.

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  4. Scott (1,792 comments) says:

    Yes David thanks for that comment. I too am following the enquiry with interest.

    The thing that has always struck me was what was the plan if an explosion occurred? There didn’t seem to be any plan? Because what happened was that the police, who to my knowledge have no special expertise in this area, were put in charge of the rescue attempt when an explosion did occur. They gathered experts together. This all took time. And then nothing happened. No rescue attempt was ever made.

    Again to the best of my knowledge the procedure is that following an explosion rescue parties move straight on in. The explosion has used up most of the gases and there is a window of opportunity to rescue the miners before they perish from asphyxiation. The mine did explode again but not until Wednesday, the first explosion occurring on Friday.

    My view is that it is a moral stain on all of us how weak the rescue response was and all those miners were left to die. Why the police were left in charge of this is a complete mystery. My understanding is that there were many locals who would have gone on in to rescue their loved ones. To stop them from doing so was poor.

    And yes if it was my family members down there I would have gone to rescue them. I have to put this down every time because of the inevitable response from the critics who think it was better for them all to die rather than risk one rescue member.

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  5. flipper (4,050 comments) says:

    I have had experience in coivering as a reporter inquiries and court cases dating back to a time when “if it bleeds, it leads..”: was never the objective. The objective was always to provide a fair and balanced report.
    Trying reach conclusions from snippets of reported evidence or the “post hearing”: comments of an interested party is fraught.
    When all has been said and considered we may be sure that we will get a “Mahon-like” report – if justified.

    On the robot. If sustained, it is now poriobaBLE that the first explosion killed but the lucky two. 300kgs for 100m – enormous kinetic energy there in a confined spaCE. A horrible, but quick death!

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  6. wreck1080 (3,905 comments) says:

    The first explosion knocked out gas control systems.

    Therefore, it stands to reason the second explosion was much larger.

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  7. vto (1,128 comments) says:

    Deregulation of the building industry led to leaky homes.

    Deregulation of the finance industry led to the GFC.

    Deregulation of the mining safety regulations led to 29 dead men at Pike River.

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  8. ephemera (556 comments) says:

    my gut reaction is absolutely unsurvivable.

    I wouldn’t want to stand next to you in a lift, then.

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  9. wreck1080 (3,905 comments) says:

    @vto :

    You are wrong, deregulation of the finance industry did not cause the GFC.

    It was over regulation that caused the GFC.

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  10. rosscalverley (83 comments) says:

    “My physics is too rusty to calculate what level of energy is needed to move a 300 kg object over 100 metres.”

    Most people’s would be, but it doesn’t matter. An explosion that would knock a person (probably around 75 to 110kg in this case) 100 metres would probably be unsurvivable, and you are talking three times that.

    From the earlier stages of the commission, I remember reading that the Government was notified of serious issues in the mine two years before the accident. Therefore, not only is the company to blame but also Kate Wilkinson as Minister of Labour. If she had any credibility she would resign.

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  11. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    rosscalverley
    Good call, the Minister seems to have got a free pass so far from the media about this, but I doubt the Royal Commission will miss too much.

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  12. insider (1,028 comments) says:

    @ ross

    The mine only started production in October 2008…I think you are confusing the well publicised tunneling and set up issues. It was all over the papers so no big conspiracy there and no reason for the govt to get involved in technical issues of a private company.

    I’m at a loss as to why so many people want to take away responsibility from business owners to ensure a safe workplace and pass it on to unaccountable and anonymous bureaucrats. How many council building inspectors or managers have lost their jobs over leaky homes? Who in Corrections carried the can for Dean Bell murdering while he was supposedly under supervision?

    Mining is dangerous but so are lots of things – truck driving, electrical work, flying, farming, construction oil working. Are we going to unravel the whole system for all of them too and pass it to Wellington? I’d far rather know that the people making decisions are directly involved in the work concerned and directly liable for their actions than leaving it to some guy in an office who probably has never worked in the industry (or is a reject from it), and who is more interested in developing systems and processes that cover his arse rather than do the job of protecting workers.

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  13. leftyliberal (651 comments) says:

    @insider: I don’t think anyone is asking for an unaccountable or anonymous bureaucrats. Rather that there should be oversight by those who are accountable: the question is whether leaving it to the business owners is enough. I think the above suggests that it’s not enough, so some oversight is required. This needn’t be an unaccountable or anonymous bureaucrat, however.

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  14. Lipo (229 comments) says:

    [DPF: Oh sure it is possible that in terms of this disaster they may not have made a difference. But would you want one of your family members going down a mine which does no evacuation drills, has faulty safety gear, an unmanned emergency line and the emergency exit being a 100 metre vertical climb]
    David – Isn’t it the reason why we are having this Royal Commsion? To spend days dicking around talking about other issues and highlighting issues not relevant to the explosion seems a waste of time.
    To answer your question about myself or my family mining in there, after seeing the saftey issues – no.

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  15. Pharmachick (235 comments) says:

    @rosscalverly, DPF and anyone else that cares, from Husband of Pharmachick (to borrow Cactus’ labeling style) – that does this stuff for a living.:

    The force required to make something move infinitely slowly regardless
    of distance on a horizontal surface is dependent on the friction
    cooefficient. If the friction coefficient is 0.5 then the force to
    move 300 kg which is approximately 2943 Newtons (if on earth) is 2943
    x 0.5 = 1472 Newtons.

    If it is a frictionless surface then the force to move it very slowly
    is ideally zero.

    If is occurs over 30 seconds then you need an additional force to
    accelerate the mass so that it will cover the distance in 30 seconds.
    This is a kinematic problem and you need the correct kinematic
    equation. Assuming it is done on a frictionless surface and has
    constant acceletion (and is therefore applying constant force) then
    the correct equation is:

    d = vi*t+1/2at^2

    rearranging gives

    a = 2(d-vi*t)/(t^2)
    = 2*(100-(0*30))/(30^2)
    = 0.222 m/s^2

    F = m*a
    = 300*0.222
    = 66.7 Newtons

    This solution is not correct because there are no absolutely frictionless surfaces on earth – but the real question most people want answered is “was that a big force and was the object subject to very large accelerations and is that bad?”. The answer is, yes, yes and yes.

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  16. Pharmachick (235 comments) says:

    Whoops, I have just been informed by the spousal unit that I gave the wrong parameters – he says that in an explosion the 300 kg would have traveled the 100m in closer to 0.3 second and the forces would, in fact; be huge. I’ll leave you to re-do the calculations.

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  17. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    Suddenly all the morons blaming the Department of Conservation look like, well, ‘morons’.

    Good to see that the truth (that some on the Coast always knew) is coming out, this mine was a bloody shambles.

    There are important lessons to be learned from this disaster that will affect far more than coal mining, but sadly, I don’t think there is much of a motive to learn them.

    For example, the drunken antics of a comedian gain far more interest than this thread, once upon a time people would have seen this inquiry as far more important.

    If the lessons are not learned, this will happen again, but next time it might be an engine falling of an Air NZ plane or a passenger train derailing.

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  18. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    @ ross

    I’m at a loss as to why so many people want to take away responsibility from business owners to ensure a safe workplace and pass it on to unaccountable and anonymous bureaucrats.

    Because Ross, the effing mine blew up and killed 29 people, you are at a loss? seriously?

    How many council building inspectors or managers have lost their jobs over leaky homes? Who in Corrections carried the can for Dean Bell murdering while he was supposedly under supervision?

    It’s a different issue.

    Mining is dangerous but so are lots of things – truck driving, electrical work, flying, farming, construction oil working. Are we going to unravel the whole system for all of them too and pass it to Wellington? I’d far rather know that the people making decisions are directly involved in the work concerned and directly liable for their actions than leaving it to some guy in an office who probably has never worked in the industry (or is a reject from it), and who is more interested in developing systems and processes that cover his arse rather than do the job of protecting workers..

    You really don’t get it do you!

    We had testimony from Neville Rockhouse today that described a system of safety that while robust, was routinely overlooked and ignored by higher management.

    There are a lot of people with blood on their hands on this event, including (among others) the National party, the Labour party, the unions, the department of labour, and Pike River limited.

    A systemic loss of values where it counts.

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  19. TM (99 comments) says:

    I have no problem leaving health and safety to business owners within a general legal framework and the occassional DOL inspection for high risk industries. But if there are fundamental systemic problems as may be the case here, then there need to be very serious consequences (eg. the senior management and executive put in jail for a long time).

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  20. RRM (9,915 comments) says:

    So Whittall’s idea of a satisfactory emergency exit for the miners was a vertical ladder the height of the BNZ tower on Willis St.

    Jesus…

    This is the man everyone was praising as “Wow, what a man, so conscientious in the face of the tragedy affecting his men…” at the time of the disaster.

    And that sort of decision making indicates an industry that is NOT ready for self-regulation…

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  21. RRM (9,915 comments) says:

    Oh and good comments above Shunda.

    I can only hope that with this and the CHCH earthquakes, we will start to dispel the hopeless attitude shared by so many people of:

    “Come on, this is New Zealand; nothing bad is ever going to happen here! What are you worrying about?”

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