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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 23rd year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Risking lives to save what?

6 December 2017

When a group of miners died in the Pike River tragedy some years ago, the face of "health & safety" in New Zealand changed forever.

The good old "she'll be right" attitude that many Kiwis have had towards matters of safety for many generations is now completely unacceptable. Now that bureaucrats have gotten their teeth into the issue of "regulating" safety the world is a safer place -- except for those who are drowning in a sea of red tape and compliance costs.

To be fair, our safety was pretty lax in many cases, and this was reflected in our rather poor safety record -- certainly in the workplace.

Painters could save a few thousand dollars by simply using extension ladders rather than expensive scaffolding and hi-viz was something reserved for fancy-dress parties rather than an every-day piece of work clothing.

Well that's all changed now -- but I fear we've gone from the insane to the ridiculous and a story on today's wires kind of proves that.

According to this piece running on Stuff.co.nz, whoever takes the job of managing the re-entry into the Pike River mine runs a very real risk of ending up in penniless and imprisoned.

According to Stuff "The chief executive of the Pike River Recovery Agency could face millions in fines or jail time if something went wrong with the drift re-entry".

Seriously?

Who'd take a job, no matter what the pay, which could see them fined into bankruptcy and/or locked up for years?

And why is it that the CEO of the recovery agency is personally liable -- but the politicians who are creating this job and demanding that he recover the bodies are automatically indemnified against legal repercussions?

Well of course the facts are usually more than the headlines would disclose and so it is with this situation.

Yes, if the CEO doesn't take adequate steps to manage and minimise risk then, just like every other manager in NZ, he could be prosecuted under the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 and such prosecution could result in a criminal conviction, fines and/or imprisonment.

However, a good manager would take great care to ensure that nobody was exposed to unreasonable risk -- thus covering his own arse whilst protecting the safety of those in his employ.

The real problem here comes from the conflict between the task he'll be given and the need to ensure safety. That's because many have suggested that the mine is not and never will be safe to re-enter. In fact it's my own personal opinion that this whole thing is an exercise in stupidity.

I can understand the desire for families to recover the remains of their lost ones as a way of assisting the grieving process and to help effect closure -- but to place the lives of others at risk in order to do so just doesn't make sense. To be honest, if it were my spouse or family member who had died in that tragedy and whose remains were still unrecovered, I'd much rather that the mine was permanently closed up and a small memorial created at its former entrance. This would be a tomb for those who had died and a way that they would be remembered.

To dig them up so that they can be re-buried makes no sense to me -- especially when doing so represents a risk to the safety and lives of others.

The Health & Safety in the Workplace Act 2015 was a government knee-jerk reaction to this tragedy and this move to recover the bodies is yet another ill-conceived attempt to make up for weak policies of the past. Personally, I think it's time to move on already.

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