The former CEO of the Pike River mine says he does not feel guilty about the blast that killed 29 of his workers. Hayden Donnell lists a few things that should branch his conscience.
Peter Whittall, who was in charge of the mine of the Pike River when he blew up and killed 29 men, does not feel guilty. The former chief executive of Pike River Coal Ltd gave an interview to the Sunday Star-Times this weekend where he spoke about the "dark times" he has experienced since the disaster in 2010. Everyone who was connected to Pike River had somehow suffered, he told Jonathan Marshall.
He, for example, was unemployed for three years after the mine he exploded exploded, killed Pike River employees, and trapped their remains underground. Even now that he is happily married and living in a $ 1.3 million lifestyle block south of Sydney, he is still being chased by the & # 39; tragedy & # 39 ;. But does he feel guilty? "No," he said. "It is human nature to blame someone."
Whittall believed that he had "nothing to be ashamed of" in the Sunday Star-Times"Summary, and that he could not feel guilty because no one could tell him exactly what caused the deadly explosion in his mine. "Do I really know what happened? No, I do not," he said. "It was a terrible tragedy, but I would defend my position because I feel I always put the interests of my staff and my staff before everything."
He added: "Do I have an apology for the families? I think it is a tragedy and I absolutely apologize for having ever happened to them."
People are innocent until they are found guilty and charges against Whittall under the Health and Safety in Employment Act have been dropped in 2013 – a decision that was later declared unlawful by the Supreme Court. But if Whittall really can not find anything that provokes his conscience, he might try to grow his mind in that fatal moment, and in the vast reservoir of reported negligence and incompetence that preceded it, much of which he controlled very closely.
He could look at the fact that the mine where he played an essential role had in fact become a deadly trap. Many of the gas sensors in the Pike River did not function for weeks in the run-up to the explosion on November 19, 2010. Those who did work made a frightening picture. Hand-held sensors carried by employees routinely made catastrophic gas measurements. Methane was explosively registered 21 times in the 48 days before the disaster. Every respectable mine would have been closed while the gas peaks were being investigated. Pike River kept running.
Whittall might consider himself ashamed of his involvement in the creation of a disastrous safety culture, or the fact that he has approved a dangerous mine design. Pike River had no second exit, which was illegal, and would have made escape almost impossible if the main mine deviation was blocked. The primary fan was underground instead of on the surface, which meant that it was impossible to reach after a disaster. Whittall allowed both unsafe functions to be built and felt a sense of conscience about the fact that they might play a role in 29 deaths.
If Whittall still does not feel guilty about those shortcomings, he might at least regret the corporate culture that informed them. The Royal Commission of Inquiry in the Pike River disaster said that Whittall and the rest of the mine managers gave priority to the gain over the safety of employees. Because of a series of bad decisions, including Whittall that chose to purchase three defective machines, the Pike River mine was in financial trouble when it exploded. Despite this, Whittall continued to promise promising production volumes to the shareholders. Employees had to meet these desperate and illusory goals at the expense of measures that should have kept them alive.
All this was the responsibility of Whittall. He was the first employee of Pike River. His first and most important task was to create a mine that would not explode. Then he failed.
But if even that does not make him feel guilty, he must think about how the families of the 29 men who died in the Pike River were treated. In 2013, Judge Jane Farish Pike River Coal Ltd condemned nine violations of the Health and Safety in Employment Act at the Greymouth District Court. She said that a worse case of health and safety failure was "hard to imagine" and ordered the company to pay the families of the Pike River $ 3.41 million in damages. Despite that destructive verdict, the families received only $ 5,000 each because the company Whittall once led, was under guardianship and claimed it could not pay. It had already spent its pay out of liability insurance of $ 2 million in legal fees.
Whittall could also think about the way he treated the families in the aftermath of the disaster. Given the design of the Pike River mine, there was never any hope that anyone would survive the first explosion. Nonetheless, Whittall continued to tell families that their loved ones could cling to life, and gave them more optimistic instructions than agreed with police chief Gary Knowles, according to Rebecca Macfie's book. Tragedy at Pike River Mine.
When the second explosion on 24 November 2010 put an end to the chance of finding survivors in the mine, Whittall got the job of telling the families that their loved ones were dead. His statement was meant to be short and concise. Instead, he opened by talking about the context prior to the explosion – the earlier in the day the gas levels had diminished and Mines Rescue had prepared to launch a rescue. "People immediately began to cheer and clap," wrote Macfie. "[Gary] Knowles, [Gerry] Brownlee and Whittall raised their arms to keep quiet, knowing that the message went terribly wrong. Whittall tried to continue, but could not. & # 39;
On that day Whittall could not face the consequences of his mistakes. He could not see the ugly reality by staring him in the face. And that seems to be going on even now.