• Admin
    18
    Journalist Rebecca Macfie, who wrote the book on the Pike River mine disaster, will be joining this live Q&A session to mark ten years since 29 men lost their lives on 19 November 2010, as we reflect on what lessons remain to be learned.
    1606078800_1606082400_N_T_O19
  • Brendon Ward
    4
    Was this recorded?
  • Admin
    18
    Hasn't happened yet - next Monday! Click on "I'm attending" to get a reminder.
    As with previous Q&A sessions, they are all text-based and available for reading later.
  • Brendon Ward
    4
    lol - i'm glad. Pike River is a key to understanding the context of HS in NZ
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    If good regulation, competent employer and empowered workers are the essential "legs" of a decent health and safety system, then one way to think about Pike River is of a situation where none of these are present. The regulator was missing in action and disempowered; the company lacked skills and good governance and explicitly downplayed its risks while talking up its financial prospects; workers' concerns were actively ignored and there was an explicit hostility to them having a strong collective voice. The lessons are there to be learned for every organisation, for the regulator and for the labour movement.
    I look forward to your questions and I'm sure I will learn a great deal this dialogue too.
    Rebecca
  • Andrew
    305
    Excellent book Rebecca. Thanks for writing it.

    It should be on everyone's bookshelf and well thumbed!

    I will try to keep my views on the utterly disgraceful actions of Pike River, NZOG, OSH and EPMU under control.
  • Sherralynne Smith
    6
    I wish I could attend this question and answer session with Rebecca. Rebecca's book is superb and it opened my eyes to the major shortcomings of Health and Safety in NZ, which sadly continue to plague us. We need to improve our performance and cease putting Health and Safety in the too hard basket.

    Thanks for writing your book Rebecca.
  • Admin
    18
    Start thinking of questions you'd like to put to Rebecca for Monday's session, and enter them into this thread.
    As always with this Q&A format, all questions & answers to this particular thread go into a queue for the moderator to release in a timely fashion. The first question will be released about an hour before things kick off at 10am.
  • Andrew
    305
    Question.
    As we know, Pike River Coal Ltd was substantially owned by NZOG. NZOG kept pouring money, disaster after disaster into Pike. And it had its own Board Members on Pike's Board.

    Do you think we will ever see the day when our legislation will hold accountable Company ownership further up the chain of ownership?

    ( I don't)
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    I think NZOG's role as the originator and on-going funder of Pike, and its lack of care for how the company was operating is one of the most important elements of the Pike story. In answer to the question, of course I think that proper accountability for H&S travesties requires law and enforcement that reaches into the boardroom, and this is what the HSW Act promised, but my understanding is that this hasn't happen in any material way yet, and certainly not with respect to large corporates. Will it happen? It depends on political will. I don't think we see much evidence of that regarding H&S - look at how readily this important law was trivialised in 2015.
  • Brendon Ward
    4
    Are there any well-made documentaries on Pike River? I recall seeing something a while back but couldn't manage to play what I found due to international licensing issues? I learned a lot from watching the Chernobyl series and the Bhopal movie with Martin Sheen.
  • Steve H
    20
    What exactly has changed in New Zealand workplaces that makes them any safer? Given that about every five to six months around the same number of workers die in workplace accidents around the country as died at Pike River this day ten years ago.

    Excellent book Rebecca. Thanks for writing it.Andrew

    +1, should be a must read for any manager, or company director
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    There was a Prime doco-drama about four or five years ago Brendon. Sorry I can't recall the title but you should be able to search for it. My impression was that many people found it helpful in understanding the story. Haven't watched either Chernobyl or Bhopal - I must do that!
  • Admin
    18
    Keep those questions coming, folks! They all go to a moderation queue for release.
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    Hi Steve, thanks and a great question. It's a huge question of course, and if you are a H&S practitioner you probably have more answers than i do. But I am constantly reminded that our figures are terrible, and there is the ongoing conversation about Worksafe's rate of prosecutions. I fail to see how our record will change until there are proper consequences for disregard for workers' lives. That means prosecutions and penalties. Without going on too much, I suspect there are some big questions too that we have to think about regarding the structure of the NZ economy - our reliance on commodity markets, large numbers of small-time contractors who themselves don't have much security and carry high financial risks. The forestry sector being an exemplar.
  • Shirlene Vautier
    7
    Q1 - What do you think would have been the impact of going ahead with the prosecution against Peter Whittall rather than the deal that was made?

    Q2 - What similarities or differences do you see between Pike river and White Island?
  • Peter Bateman
    175
    WorkSafe has until 9 Dec to lay charges over White Island/Whakaari. Presuming they do so, it is likely to be even more politically fraught than Pike, given the eyes of the international media will be following the case on behalf of the tourism sector.
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    Further to Steve's question, as a journalist I naturally (and correctly I think) believe that the lack of deep coverage of health and safety, and the stories behind the incidents is part of the problem. When the forestry industry killed 10 in 2013 and faced a massive activist campaign led by Helen Kelly, the following year the industry went 12 months without a fatality. I think that tells us something about how we value and prioritise the human toll behind poor health and safety.
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    HI Shirlene, I really can't offer any insight on White Island so will leave that one alone. Re the Whittall deal, the most important thing about the prosecution going ahead (as it should have) was that justice would have been seen to be done. The families were denied this most basic requirement and indeed the whole country was. I regard that arrangement as an absolute low point for our justice system, and a travesty that two families had to fight to the Supreme Court for a declaration that it was unlawful. And even with that declaration, there is no material consequence.
  • Peter Bateman
    175
    Rebecca, your point about there being multiple subcontractors at Pike, many of them one man bands, leads to a question about the further atomisation of work, ie: the gig economy. So far as I am aware, no H&S regulator in the world has so far grasped how to offer such workers any protection.
  • Shirlene Vautier
    7
    Like others, it feels like not much changed post Pike River, for a number of reasons - but lack of accountability being a big one. Have you seen any positive impacts?
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    Yeah, a huge issue Peter. And to that I suspect we can add the increased use of labour hire, which creates another institutional disconnect between the duties of employer to the employed.
  • Steve H
    20
    I fail to see how our record will change until there are proper consequences for disregard for workers' lives. That means prosecutions and penalties.Rebecca Macfie

    I have long been a believer that part of our dismal H&S performance can be laid at the door step of the ACC legislation preventing workers damaged (or killed) in workplaces from suing their employers for damages, what are your thoughts on this?
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    I think there are probably companies that have genuinely tried to integrate a strong health and safety culture and process into their operations. But the annual fatality figures really seem to show that we haven't got anywhere. Somehow - and I really don't know what the answer to this is - health and safety is very readily trivialised, made to seem like red tape with no upside, a cost with no return. So you get the endless anecdotal stories that tell a story of over-kill (excuse the expression) in terms of say scaffolding requirements, without the equivalent telling of the stories of people who are left with debilitating injuries or illness, and families left to struggle on economically because their breadwinner has been killed. Health and safety also seems to be a topic that politicians are very apt to latch onto as an indicator of an over-regulated state, often without any concrete evidence to back up their anecdotes.
  • Matt Ward
    7
    Hi Rebecca,
    If the Pike29 had their time over again and they could turn back the clock what is the one thing you think they would do differently from a workers perspective?
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    Hmmmm, Steve. I understand the question. To be honest I don't really know what I think. I would have to immerse myself in that one before I ventured a view. I can see the logic of your view (and it's consistent with my views on the need for hard penalties) but the social contract that sits beneath the original ACC scheme still seems to be of great value.
  • Shirlene Vautier
    7
    One of the issues was the effective silencing of people who were in a position to raise serious concerns, concerns that were known and should have drawn focused attention to the safety of the mine. What advice do you have for any managers or safety people who find themselves in similar position, or the milder version of being expected to present a positive take of the safety of their operations
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    I think some would have trusted their instincts more and left. Bear in mind that these guys were routinely raising issues - hundreds of incident forms that were never acted on, a health and safety committee that was never listened to. Everything about Pike and the regulatory environment was so utterly threadbare that it's hard to do a simple retrospective in the way you suggest. I would say one crucial thing would have been for them to have unionised to a far greater extent than they did, but then you have to remember that the company was hostile to the union. They could have gone to the inspector more, but the inspector was powerless and lacking in mana. They could have gone to the board - and people did go to the board, but the board lacked the insight (and alertness) to do anything with that.
  • Angie Willington
    0
    Hi Rebecca - What are your thoughts on the Pike River Recovery Agency, led by Dave Gawn? Do you think what they uncover will help furhter legal actions, or is it a $50 million recovery of those that were lost on that fateful day? I personally think we should push on through the rock fall until the end.
  • Robert Mackie
    1
    Hi Rebecca, thanks for your dedication to making H&S practitioners more aware of such important issues.
    In your view, what are the key learnings H&S practitioners should be taking from the Pike River tragedy 10 years on?
  • Rebecca Macfie
    27
    I would say that managers and safety people have to find ways of hearing what workers at the "coal face" are saying. If the workers are not venturing their thoughts, then they need to find ways to make it safe for those thoughts and perspectives to be volunteered. I think a huge risk for managers is that you lose sight of how risky it is for workers to speak up. Am i really going to complain, if I have four kids in school and my partner is part time on the minimum wage and the landlord might be about to put the rent up? Am i really going to complain if I am not that confident about putting stuff down on paper on a form, and I never did too well at school and my spelling isn't great, and what if they tell me off? I think managers and companies absolutely have to think about how they genuinely hear their workers, and regard them as experts in the environment that they occupy every day - whether mine or shop counter or at the end of a chainsaw or wherever.
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