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Lessons from Pike River: Regulation, Safety and Neoliberalism

New Zealand Universities Law Review 2015

RegNet Research Paper No. 2015/94

30 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2015  

Neil Gunningham

School of Regulation & Global Governance (RegNet)

Date Written: 2015


This article draws on the findings of the Pike River Royal Commission and other investigations, on the wider international literature on Work Health and Safety (WHS) regulation and on the writer’s own interviews with mining industry stakeholders, to develop a composite picture of what went wrong at Pike River and how best to prevent such disasters in the future. It argues that there are four pillars of effective WHS management and regulation: appropriately designed regulation; effective implementation and enforcement; a competent and motivated enterprise/facility operator; and genuine worker representation and participation. However, building or strengthening these pillars is difficult to achieve. Over and beyond legislation incorporating a complementary combination of different types of standards and worker empowerment, a skilled and adequately resourced regulator is essential. Where regulators are neither, then implementation is likely to be severely compromised. Moreover, unless the influence of neo-liberalism and its accompanying free market ideology are substantially negated, then these pillars are vulnerable to being undermined, creating the seeds of a future disaster. Implications of the Health and Safety Reform Bill are also considered.

Keywords: Risk regulation and policy, Work Health and Safety Regulation, Mining industry

JEL Classification: K23, K32, Q48

Suggested Citation

Gunningham, Neil, Lessons from Pike River: Regulation, Safety and Neoliberalism (2015). New Zealand Universities Law Review 2015; RegNet Research Paper No. 2015/94. Available at SSRN: or

Neil Gunningham (Contact Author)

School of Regulation & Global Governance (RegNet) ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

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