The Department of Labour’s High Hazard Unit (HHU) is now running at full strength, Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson announced today.
The roles for all six specialist Health and Safety Inspectors have been filled. A Chief Inspector Petroleum and Geothermal, Wayne Vernon, has just been appointed and will start work in March.
This follows the appointment of Chief Inspector Mines Gavin Taylor who has been seconded from his position as Queensland’s Chief Inspector of Coal Mines.
“Mr Taylor and Mr Vernon have a wealth of experience and represent a coup for the Department of Labour. Establishing the High Hazards Unit has enabled the Department to attract highly skilled inspectors needed for these industries,” Ms Wilkinson says.
“Mining is a hazardous activity and we are doing all we can to make sure mining in New Zealand is as safe as possible.”
“We have a lot to learn from the Pike River tragedy. The Department is working with Australian mining regulators and Mr Taylor is in regular contact with them.”
The HHU includes three mines inspectors, three petroleum and geothermal inspectors, the two chief inspectors and administration staff.
“While we wait for the Royal Commission’s report into Pike River, the Department and High Hazards Unit have been doing a lot of work around health and safety in our extractives industry.”
The establishment of the High Hazards Unit was announced last August, following recommendations from an independent review of the Department of Labour’s interactions with Pike River.
It recommended a national reporting structure led by a chief inspector and that there was more emphasis on auditing health and safety systems.
“That’s just want the HHU has been doing,” Ms Wilkinson says. “Mr Taylor has been visiting all of the country’s underground mines and making recommendations on further safety work they need to undertake. The Department is also developing clearer safety guidelines for mine operators.”
“Advice has gone out to all mine operators about potential hazards with certain electrical systems, with a recommendation that these systems be reviewed and tested.
“The Department of Labour is also working to establish a panel of expert advisors to provide technical support to the inspectors.”