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Disaster at Pike River (TEACHING NOTES) 2014-158.3

21 May 2014



In 2010, a small mining company on the West Coast of New Zealand became the founding member of the country’s International Zero Harm campaign. Membership demonstrated the business’s intention to create the safest environment for their employees while becoming a best practice blueprint for other companies to aspire to. At the time, Pike River Coal Limited held great promise for its shareholders. In 2008 the company had received an environmental award from the Department of Conservation, whose Minister described the organisation as a “showcase development”. Over time, however, some began to notice safety concerns that proved difficult to mitigate in a workplace culture that was disconnected at best. This would all culminate with a series of catastrophic explosions beginning on 19 November 2010, causing the death of 29 men. A Royal Commission of Inquiry uncovered primary and secondary causes to the tragic accident. The primary cause was a substantial methane explosion. The secondary causes were the company’s systematic operational and management failures resulting in a corporate ethos of “production above safety”, and a workplace health and safety system in New Zealand that was seriously behind the times.

This case can be taught from four perspectives: Human resource management; Health and safety; Governance, and Regulation, and these teaching notes, prepared by Dr Geoff Plimmer for the teaching of the Pike River case study, expand on the first two topic areas, with suggested question lines and teaching plans.

Authors: Dr Geoff Plimmer
Published Date: 21 May 2014
Author Institution: Victoria University of Wellington
Content Length: 5
Product Type: Teaching note