14 Dec 2009

Firm to compensate drowned workers' families

10:11 pm on 14 December 2009

Heron Construction has been fined $65,000 and ordered to pay almost $150,000 in reparation to the families of two men killed while working on a wastewater ocean outfall in Christchurch.

Jody Campbell and Tony Utteridge were returning to shore in an inflatable boat in stormy conditions when they drowned in October last year.

Heron Construction admitted failing to ensure the safety of its employees and operating a boat without a safe ship management certificate.

At the sentencing in the Christchurch District Court on Monday the company received credit for implementing safety measures following the deaths.

However, Judge Raoul Neave said these measures should already have been in place.

"There were significant gaps in the system which were not found in time and which simply should not have been permitted.

"I think it's also fair to observe these days that there is significant expertise available for those who need health and safety plans and there's plenty of people available to give the advice that's necessary to those working in dangerous industries."

Loss and forgiveness

Mr Campbell's partner, Nicky Douglas, told the court he had been a devoted father to the couple's two young sons and was her soulmate.

She spoke of the loneliness and grief she had felt since his death and of her financial difficulties.

However, she told the court Mr Campbell had loved his job and the people he worked with, and she did not hold anyone responsible for his death.

Judge Neave praised her spirit of forgiveness.

"It seems to me a much healthier attitude than the desire for blood which I'm afraid we sometimes hear."

He said it also reflected the generally restorative approach taken by all parties, which was commendable.

Outside the court, Tony Utteridge's mother Helen said she hoped the sentencing would lead to better safety protocols at sea.

But she said Heron Construction had made improvements and

praised the company for the support it had shown her family.

"I think their future will be bright and I wish them well in the future. They have been very caring but there was a lack there wasn't there, and I am confident thigs will be different from now on.

"I think it's really affected them."

Tragedy avoidable - Maritime NZ

Sharyn Forsyth of Maritime New Zealand says the agency is concerned that despite it being a well-resourced company, Heron Construction's actions had been unsafe.

"The judge has underlined that this is a tragedy that could have and should have been avoided.

"We've got families there where the daddy's not going to be coming home at night."

She says the case emphasises that in all projects - particularly ones of high risk - companies need to be mindful of their safety obligations and ensure everyone is able to return home at night.

There has been no comment from Heron Construction.