Valley Longwall International (VLI) is a market leader in the supply of specialised equipment and allied services to the coal mining industry. We have over 800 specialist personnel operating in Australia and overseas.
We regard the safety and wellbeing of our people as an absolute priority. Our excellent safety record testifies to that fact. Before the New Zealand Department of Labour charged
VLI Drilling Pty Ltd with breaches of OH&S legislation, no
member of the VLI Group had ever been charged with any such
breach, either in Australia or in any other country in which
Today the judge convicted VLI on all three charges, imposing a fine of NZ$46,800. VLI has noted the judge's comments and accepts her decision. We appreciate the judge's recognition of our recent innovation in mine safety management.
The charges brought against us related to our failure to have implemented a procedure to prevent operation of our drill rig, if Pike River Coal (PRC) had not conducted regular electrical and gas sensor inspections of our rig as part of its mine safety management responsibilities. Industry standards required PRC to withdraw our rig from service, if it had not passed inspection.
In its prosecution of us, the Department of Labour acknowledged
that our failure caused no actual harm, and could not causally
be linked to the tragic explosions at the Pike River mine. The
judge also found that the only link between the admitted offences
and the mine explosions was that the explosions were the
catalyst for a detailed analysis and investigation of
procedures at the mine and it is that process that led to the
charges. In the wake of those explosions, our own
investigation confirmed that we were not required by industry
standards or practice to verify any mine operator's performance of
its mine safety management responsibilities. We explored and
eventually established a reasonably practicable step to
prevent operation of our rig without that verification. That
practicable step is our innovation in mine safety management.
It relies wholly on the collaboration of the relevant mine
operator, and to the best of our knowledge did not previously exist
in any mine safety regulation or standard, or operate in any
coal mine in the world. We are now discussing the additional
measure with our mine operators. Having established
that additional step, we couldn't hand on heart say we'd taken
all practical steps at PRC to ensure the safety of our people.
We therefore decided a guilty plea was appropriate to
remain true to our commitment to our people that their safety is always our paramount concern.
James Joy, an independent mine safety expert stated in an affidavit to the court that 'the immediacy of the defendant's proposed procedures makes them as reasonably practicable as the defendant could hope to achieve, even although contingent on the mine operator's participation'.
However, the independent safety expert warned that VLI's proposed procedure 'must not detract from the mine's responsibility for the overall health and safety management including routine effective testing and inspections of critical controls such as gas monitoring equipment in an underground coal mine'.
While the initial response from mine operators to our desire for more visibility over their safety checks of our machinery has been positive, time will tell whether VLI's proposed procedure will enhance safety and be adopted by regulators and mine operators.
Global best practice recognises that the mine operator must be solely responsible for making the mine safe, including undertaking all relevant inspections. We look forward to working with mine operators and all relevant parties to test the efficacy of our initiative.
As always, our thoughts remain with the families and friends of all the victims of the Pike River Mine Disaster.
For further information:
Res Publica Pty Ltd
Tel: +61 2 8297 1515
Mobile: +61 417 260 918