THE Pike River coalmine was unsafe and should not have been operating when it exploded killing 29 men in 2010, a New Zealand judge has ruled.
Judge Jane Farish has released detailed findings after last month’s conviction of Pike River Coal Ltd on nine health and safety charges laid by the former Department of Labour.
In her 64-page judgment released on Monday, the judge detailed a litany of health and safety failings by the company in the lead-up to the fatal methane explosions on 19 November 2010.
It did not implement or audit its inadequate safety plans and procedures, and had ignored 13 vital safety checks on the management and monitoring of methane gas, she said.
The geology of the land where the mine sat was not properly investigated and the two escape routes to reach fresh air were inadequate and hard to use in an emergency, Judge Farish said.
To escape, workers either had to climb a series of vertical ladders over 100 metres or evacuate through the main 2.3km tunnel.
The company was also harshly criticised for permitting numerous potential ignition sources, including machinery and vehicles, in the mine’s restricted zone, and inadequately managing ventilation.
Judge Farish said the disaster was the result of an accumulation of errors and omissions over several years.
The company, now in receivership, will be sentenced in the Greymouth District Court in July. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of $250,000.
Meanwhile, its former chief executive Peter Whittall has denied 12 charges of health and safety failures brought against him. His trial is yet to be held.