Bolger's comments on Cave Creek

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Mostly academic now, but there's a short stint of talk from Jim Bolger on the Cave Creek Tragedy, from about 1h:05m:30s onwards. One claim I'd never heard previously was that Denis Marshall, then Minister of Conservation, offered to resign immediately after the accident. Bolger told him not to, and now believes that was a mistake. He also trotted out the same line of regret about having to take symbolic responsibility for actions which he and the Minister couldn't possibly have known about. I doubt anyone would expect a Minister to be micro-managing things like nails versus bolts, yet DOC was later shown to have been a critically under-resourced and dysfunctional agency at the time, and that because of this it was likely that something like Cave Creek would have happened sooner or later. I still don't see how a Minister cannot be allocated serious responsibility for not knowing and dealing with an agency in such a dysfunctional state.

Still critically under resourced ! Usual story, cut frontline staff numbers, increase middle management and call for volunteers to take up the slack. I believe they call it restructuring !

Don't know about the Minister, but the Dg at the time, Bill Mansfield should have gone. quick. I guess if Ministers are not ensuring DGs are not setting performance measures and proper risk management policies in place, then they should be accountable, and get the chop Jim Bolgers smart ar**d comment on tv, when it happened, was all it needed was a "few bolts". he had a bag of bolts to show, for the camera. Typically removing himself from accountability. DOCs problem was not so much lack of funding, it was lack of understanding about need for construction standards and proper project and risk management throughout the department. it didnt need lots more $$ to adopt a different style. In private industry, those standards had existed for a long time. Too many unqualified rangers building high risk structures without any idea of what theyre doing. There wasn't even any sort of project planning/management system in place. Its one thing the dept was directed to do immediately, as result of the enquiry.

there was a systemic failure in DOC to enforce consistent construction procedures and standards by using unqualified staff who were often not supervised by anyone experienced enough to ensure the work was carried out the work to a professional standard. professional drawings were drawn up for the cave creek viewing platform, but it wasnt constructed according to the plans.... from memory the platform was supposed to have been attached to teh foundations by either gangnails and or bolts. and they only used nails, over time the nails couldnt handle the strain of the cantilevered platform hanging out over the gorge and the platform eventually pulled away from the foundations when the large party that fell were standing on it. i dont know what happened regarding any inspection or if there was any inspection. the buck should have stopped at the top for those reasons. as a result of the accident, DOC had to completely overhaul their procedures with structures, brought in minimum standards for all structures and audited them to assess whether they were up to standard or not, those that were not up to standard were either marked for upgrading, replacement or demolition with no replacement...

@tararuahunter: "Don't know about the Minister, but the Dg at the time, Bill Mansfield should have gone. quick." On that, one of the notable comments in the report of the Commission of Inquiry was "these very capable people from the top levels of the department’s hierarchy simply did not seem to appreciate the concept of accountability in personal terms as it applies, for example, to the private sector". I'd suggest the same attitude applies to the Ministers. If they had the slightest clue of what they were doing, I think they should have been able to see how dysfunctional DOC was at the time and the risks that entailed. I'm less sure about the comparison with the private sector. There's no doubt that the private sector has different incentives, but it's only necessary to look at something like Pike River to see how much private companies can also utterly screw up when it comes to health and safety. Arguably most or all of the management responsible for that mess have still managed to dodge any genuine accountability. There seem to be similar issues, again, around some of those buildings that collapsed in Christchurch. I think there's a separate issue of general competency and priorities which can, at any time where there's not caution, infect both the public and private sectors. But just like Pike River was probably driven by commercial incentives to do more with less, and no serious enforcement to prevent the risks, DOC was probably driven by government ideology to do more with less, and no serious acknowledgement of the risks to be avoided.

@izogi. your correct, the "do less with more" existed, but it always has, still does. And in other departments as well But blaming underfunding is a bit of a cop out IMO. Senior managers never understood the need for standards, accountability or even what Project Management was. NZ Forest Service engineer staff that transferred into DOC got disbanded eventually. managers didn't know what their purpose was. When that happened, local staff were basically, "on their own". it was up to local staff to manage, and many didn't have the skills needed. its a wonder there wasn't more structural collapses, IMO. More funding wouldn't have changed that. It wasn't helped by the low priority that management of recreational assets got, versus biodiversity work. The major increase in assets funding DOC got after cave creek, appears to have disappeared also.

Hi @TararuaHunter. Sorry for not being so clear, but I'm not blaming under-funding. I agree with everything you've said. I'm blaming the lack of a clear mandate to take health and safety seriously. DOC now takes health and safety seriously at the management level. There are still occasional accidents, but the systematic changes and priorities mean it's far less likely that anything comparable will happen again. In the early 90s, health and safety was not being treated seriously by management, and it was an immediate thing to slip throughout the agency when the resources were lacking. At the time of the accident, DOC only had a one single registered engineer on its staff for all of NZ. That person only ever became aware of the platform after it had fallen! I also reckon it's a fallacy to say that the private sector's immune to similar health and safety lapses, though, despite claims that financial and criminal incentives would ensure it's taken seriously. For Pike River a genuine health and safety culture simply wasn't present amongst management. When time and resources didn't allow for it to be done safely, they were gamblers and they gambled. Safety of their employees and contractors was sacrificed. A mine that wasn't financially viable, if done safely, went ahead regardless. Those people have largely gotten away with not being held accountable for the deaths of 29 people, and I find that sickening.

fair enough, Izogi :) DOCs health and safety procedures are probably annoying to a lot of volunteers, who now have to following doc's safety systems. I find them a bit inflexible at times, mainly the interpretation of them. probably comes from managers being terrified if a volunteer gets hurt/killed and having to be held responsible. In general, I have no problem with following the departments HSE procedures, just find that theyre still clarifying a consistent approach, themselves.

It's easy to forget the long and deeply contested path that led to the formation of D0C in 1988. Guy Salmond's report is an interesing read: Developing the entire concept and purpose of DoC, especially the 'stewardship' aspect, was vexed process that did not come to a necessarily tidy conclusion when the Dept was formed. Plus various tales I've heard over the years strongly suggest the entire merger process from Lands and Survey/Forestry was badly botched right from the outset. Underplanned, underfunded, unclear political objectives, incoherent staffing and resources, lack of modern training and inconsistent staff skills were an accident waiting to happen. I'd argue it's tribute to the goodwill and personal dedication of many field staff that more accidents didn't happen. You also have to keep in mind the landmark 1992 H&S Act was still in the future, and even after it's passing it took years for it's full import to be realised and implemented. It was a different time and I'm always cautious about retroactive judgments; what happened at Cave Creek was not untypical of NZ at the time. Yet for the sake of a few fecking bolts 14 people died. At one level I cannot help but see that as a very personal failure. The poor sod who made that awful mistake bears a lot of responsibility. And the idiotic behaviour of the students themselves jumping about on a clearly unstable platform cannot be entirely overlooked. Yet at another level it tragically awoke the nation to the perils of hidden systemic and management failure. Sadly we needed Pike River to remind us. And why political leadership matters.

@PhilipW Your right, it was a different time. But the still to arrive HSE obligations wernt really a factor in my opinion. it was the ability of some field staff that probably prevented more structural failures But what should have existed (at that time) was an understanding of the need for standards for building etc, and a contract and project management thinking adopted by all staff involved. The NZFS knew the need for this thru their forest operations. DOC got rid of the skilled engineers that come to DOC to do this role. I was there at day 1, and when the engineers were lost, a lot of were floundering, trying to setup and manage contracts without the training.

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Forum The campfire
Started by izogi
On 21 April 2017
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