15 Dec 2009

Coolstore company fined for fatal fire

9:01 pm on 15 December 2009

Icepak Coolstores, the company that owned the coolstore near Hamilton that exploded in April last year, killing a fireman, has been fined $37,000 and ordered to pay reparation of $95,000.

A second company which was contracted to Icepak, Mobile Refrigeration Specialists, has been fined $56,000 and reparation of $175,000.

The companies were sentenced in Hamilton District Court on Tuesday, on charges brought under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

Icepak managing director Wayne Grattan, who faced one charge, was fined $30,000.

A fireman died and seven others were injured in the explosion at Tamahere on 5 April 2008.

Mr Grattan read a statement in court on Tuesday accepting responsibility for the actions of the company.

He said the company accepted that mistakes were made in the design and operation of the coolstore plant and that if they were not, the accident, fatality and injuries to the firefighters would not have occurred.

Mobile Refrigeration Specialists has also accepted it was at fault, but dismisss claims made by the Department of Labour that it was ultimately to blame, callous or reckless.

Icepak has indicated it's now insolvent after its insurance liability was refused.

Warning to employers - DoL

The Department of Labour says the fines serve as a warning to employers.

Its chief adviser for workplace health and safety, Dr Geraint Emrys, says the explosion was a preventable industrial accident and a tragedy the department wants to prevent in the future.

He says the serious penalties imposed by the court should give employers cause to reflect on the importance of ensuring their sites, workers, and others are safe.

Injured firefighters not convinced

The injured firemen say the plant's owners are hiding behind its corporate structure to avoid paying sufficient reparation, and the apology given in court was unconvincing.

One of those injured, Dennis Wells, read a statement on behalf of the others outside the court.

"For us, as fire officers, this was never about money. We just did our duty. For Icepak and its directors, we feel it has always been about money. Their profit before safety approach is reinforced in the directors' stance in limiting their offer for appropriate reparation."

Waikato fire chief Roy Breeze says the sentencing gives his officers the chance to move on from the tragedy.

Mr Breeze says the Fire Service is happy with the court outcome, and he's confident a similar event couldn't occur again.