Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Pike 29: And What About Peter Whittall?

With the Pike River killer coal mine finally re-entered this week, I can't help but think back to Friday 19th.November last year, when 29 men lost their lives.
As the disaster unfolded, we were moved by the sincerity and concern of one man in particular, Peter Whittall - Pike River Coal's CEO, the man in charge of the entire mining operation, and the caring face that motivated NZers and Australians to donate in support of the lost miners' families.
Seven months down the track...and The Australian this week wrote a less-than-complimentary article about Whittall. It implied that a good PR team made him look a hero (and led the applause at press conferences!), when actually he was ultimately responsible for safety flaws, and indeed the design of the entire mine itself: "...burning questions have emerged about Whittall's decisions and the NZ govt laws he worked under. The key issue confronting Whittall is this: if he cared so much for his miners, why did he not introduce safety equipment, mine designs and procedures that could have prevented the disaster or provided more chance of survival?"
The article is worth reading, if only to provide a counterpoint to the public image we saw and empathised with.
I have no doubt that the Pike River Royal Commission of Inquiry (due to start on July 11th.) will eventually provide answers and apportion any blame. I would be one of many, disappointed if it transpires that Peter Whittall failed in his duties. But, as I wrote at the time, the company website says Whittall was "responsible for all operational aspects of the business including mine design and development, and the essential areas of safety and environment".
That means - whether we (and he) like it or not - much of this will end up on his plate...

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