Director accountability for OHS reinforced by NZ penalty

On April 5 2008, a cool store in New Zealand exploded killing one firefighter and injuring 7 others.  Icepak Coolstore Ltd, according to the fire services investigation report

“[had] very large quantities of combustible material contained in the expanded polystyrene construction panels and also in the foodstuffs stored.

“There were no compliant fire detection or protection systems or hydrants, and very limited firefighting water.”

In July 2008, the New Zealand Department of Labour (DoL) issued a media statement and fact sheet concerning the explosive potential of flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants.

Language warning on the video below

On 15 December 2009, a New Zealand Court penalised two companies and a director with fines totalling over $NZ390,000.  The DoL has issued a media statement about the prosecution results.

The many reports and inquiries into the explosion and fire are very informative but one element that the DoL wants to focus on is the penalty applied to the Director of Icepak Coolstore, Wayne Grattan.  He was

“fined $30,000 on one charge that he acquiesced in the failure of the company to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work.”

The Department of Labour’s Chief Adviser for Workplace Health and Safety, Dr Geraint Emrys said (click HERE for audio):

“The prosecution against the director of Icepak should serve as a reminder to officers, agents and directors of organisations that they can be held personally accountable for the failures of their organisation.

“Mr Grattan was charged with acquiescing in Icepak’s failure in respect of obligations to its employees.  The outcome of the case against Mr Grattan reinforces the requirements of directors to be proactive in health and safety matters.”

As many Commonwealth countries have a strong commonality of law, the Icepak Coolstore case should be an important case study in many jurisdictions.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, chemicals, death, executives, government, law, media, New Zealand, OHS, safety, UncategorizedTags , , , ,

3 thoughts on “Director accountability for OHS reinforced by NZ penalty”

  1. The NZ DoL has promised a response by February 2010 to the following questions:

    • How frequently had DoL inspectors visited the IcePak site?
    • When was the last visit prior to the explosion?
    • Has this catastrophic failure of self-regulation caused DoL to review the effectiveness of the OHS regulatory approach?
    • Some of the (successful) charges were under s.18A (selling or supply plant for use in a place of work). As this is rare, what action will DoL be undertaking to emphasise these obligations to suppliers of equipment in New Zealand?
    • As the Icepak case was so high-profile will additional documentation such as the return of prosecution and sentencing notes be made publicly available?

  2. “As many Commonwealth countries have a strong commonality of law…”

    But NZ’s situation is distinctive. This is a classic case of a light-handed/self-regulating ‘Robens’ regime attending to the stable door after the horse has bolted. Why was there no independent inspection of the installation? Probably because the work was ‘self-certified’ in classic NZ style.

    The media statement makes no mention of the need for appropriate standards an enforcement of compliance – it wouldn’t occur to them. I’m willing to bet that if they had known of this hazard in advance they would have done nothing more than send a pamphlet. They would certainly have accepted any any self-certification as this is the essence of their philosophy.

    The impact of these penalties on the behaviour of others will be negligible. NZ workers will continue to die in record numbers while their DOL points only to the need for ‘more education’, entailing plenty of carrot and not much stick, at least until after the disaster occurs.

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