He had a job that nobody could envy in an organisation going down the tubes, but Mark Pizey survived two tumultuous upheavals at state-owned collier Solid Energy to take over as the new chief guardian of quarrying and mining health and safety. By HUGH DE LACY.
MARK PIZEY SUCCEEDS Scotsman Tony Forster as chief inspector extractives of the government industry health and safety agent WorkSafe New Zealand’s High Hazards Unit.
It’s a tough act to follow: Forster vacated the role when his three-year contract ran out last year, by which time he had won the industry’s ungrudging respect for generating the codes of practice so disastrously missing from the 1991 Health and Safety in Employment Act.
Pizey takes over from Forster with a credible – some say world-leading – extractives H&S regime more-or-less in place, but still requiring honing.
It’s a far cry from his previous role as manager of the Pike River Mine when Solid Energy, still a viable entity at the time, bought it in the wake of the disaster that killed 29 men in 2010.
A less enviable management role is hard to imagine as the country no less than the extractives industries reeled at the revelations of gross safety mismanagement at the mine when it was still owned by listed company Pike River Coal.
And if that wasn’t enough, Pizey then faced the agonising meltdown of Solid Energy itself as global coking coal prices crashed from US$300/tonne to $50/tonne in the wake of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis.
But the grim times are behind him as Pizey takes up the reins in a job he sees as “a continuation of the step-changes” that Forster implemented by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River tragedy.
He anticipates “no significant change at all” under his administration, but a continued drive to bed in the post-Pike changes.
Pizey has 37 years’ experience in both underground and opencast mining here and overseas, covering both the coal and the metalliferous industries.
He holds a First-Class Mine Manager’s Certificate, an A-Grade Quarry Manager’s Certificate and an A-Grade Tunnel Manager’s Certificate, all built on formal training in geology, rock mechanics and excavation engineering.
High on Pizey’s agenda at the High Hazards Unit is the establishment of named managers for the country’s plethora of quarry sites, many of which are used only occasionally.
“We think probably something in the order of 35 percent of the quarries in the country have nominated managers, and it’s our intention over the next 12 months to address that with some vigour, with the intent of capturing all the operational quarries,” Pizey says.
He wants to include as many as possible of the “ephemeral” sites, as he calls them, that may work one week then not be used again for months.
“We should be able to focus in the near term on the areas that are working more consistently, then move on to the others later on.”
The certification of safety regulations is another ongoing process.
“We have a number of approved codes of practice that are in development at the moment.
“A schedule of three or four of them come up in this calendar year, and that isn’t by any means the end of it: there are more beyond that that will take us through next year as well,” Pizey says.
One of these codes relates to ground control, while others cover emergency preparedness, air quality and worker health.
“They’re all in the process of being approved prior to release, and that approval process includes the consultative phase with the industries,” he says.
Progress on Principal Hazard Management Plans within the mining industry has been positive, with the High Hazards Unit unaware of any sites that don’t have such plans in place.
“They vary in quality, of course,” Pizey adds, “and as necessary we will work with operators to bring them up to the standards that we deem acceptable.”
Similarly, Principal Control Plans are well developed at the majority of mining sites, though again the quality varies.
“One critical issue is not so much around the plans as the appointment of the electrical or mechanical superintendent.
“These positions may require more depths of experience within the industry – I don’t know yet, but we’ll get a feel for that,” Pizey says.
“The issue is that we have these specialist roles requiring certain qualifications.
“It’s a new imposition on the industry, so I’m aware that among those people who have been put forward for electrical supervisor roles for instance, there has been a relatively low pass-rate in the oral examinations.”
Pizey puts that down to “probably a lack of understanding of what the requirements are”.
Applicants may be technically competent, but translating that competence into what’s required under the Act is still a little unclear.
“That’s not surprising given this is the first cycle through such things, and people need to learn what they’re going to be asked in the oral exam.
“No doubt they’ll then be talking to their peers and saying, ‘You don’t need to know all that great a depth in some areas, but you’ll need more information on how you apply it in a given situation’,” he says.
On the question of core competencies relating to health and safety, Pizey believes a good manager should have skills above the purely H&S ones, especially in managing people, in administration and in technical areas.
Pizey concedes there is concern and uncertainty in the extractives industries about continuing professional development, with questions about what forms of learning will earn the required annual number of points.
“We’re doing our utmost to ensure that anybody who submits a logbook to us with a record of training is given accurate information as rapidly as we possibly can.
“In the fullness of time I expect to see this as a more automated exercise where you would file through a web-page of your own, and we can review that and give periodic updates, so you would know in real time whether what you submitted is creditworthy,” Pizey says.