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'Look to Queensland for world's best practice in mining'

The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine where 29 workers were trapped inside after an explosion on Friday November 19, 2010.
The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine where 29 workers were trapped inside after an explosion on Friday November 19, 2010. Simon Baker - NZ Herald

IF NEW Zealand had Queensland's mine safety protocols in place, the horror Pike River mine disaster that killed 29 - including two Australians - would almost certainly have been avoided.

In the aftermath of a Royal Commission into the mine explosions, the country's mining industry has been told to look to Queensland if it wants world's best practice for mining.

The two-volume report released on Monday makes almost constant reference to the state, with Queensland even popping up in two of the commission's 16 recommendations.

A methane explosion on November 19 trapped 29 workers 150 metres below the surface although two workers were able to escape.

High gas levels in the mine meant the 29 workers could not be reached before a second explosion on November 24 extinguished any hope of rescue.

University of Queensland Professor David Cliff was recruited by New Zealand police to help with recovery operations before being retained by the Department of Labour.

He arrived within weeks of the deaths, just days after a fourth explosion rocked the mine site.

With a team of four, he helped investigate the cause of the accident.

Prof Cliff said although he would never say never, the chances of a Pike River disaster being replicated in Queensland were incredibly unlikely.

"The mining safety and health legislation is much stronger in the way it manages hazards," he said.

The New Zealand mining industry, he said, had just five underground coal mines with just two inspectors charged with keeping watch on activities.

He said the ventilation management plans and low standard of gas monitoring were not something you would expect in a first-world country.

Prof Cliff said on his arrival, the industry was in disbelief.

"It's hard to come to grips with the fact that something has happened like this," he said.

"Until you sit down and wade through the information - especially some that was only recovered later - you can't know what had actually happened."

Professor Cliff was not the only Queenslander working through the horrific details.

Queensland Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health Stewart Bell was one of three men on the Pike River Royal Commission.

Mr Bell said the report showed Queensland was leading the world in mine safety, but warned there was still work to do.

Already all Queensland underground mines were forced to have sophisticated gas monitoring systems installed and working.

Mr Bell said the inspectorate - which is in charge of mine safety - was already working on two issues regarding fans in underground coals mines to ensure fans were always well controlled and would not be at risk in an explosion.

"We won't be resting on our laurels because workers are still suffering injury and unfortunately we are still having fatalities in the mining sector," Mr Bell said.

"Both of these matters are being investigated in full consultation with the industry and our colleagues in New South Wales."

Topics:  mining royal commission


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