18 Jul 2013

Inspectors close Wiri recycler after explosion

8:12 pm on 18 July 2013

The company that runs the South Auckland scrap metal plant where a massive explosion occurred has been banned from operating machinery until government inspectors are satisfied it's safe.

The blast at the National Steel plant in Wiri on Wednesday night, believed to have been caused by a crushed gas cylinder, was felt by people up to 5km away. About six workers in the factory at the time escaped unharmed.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) workplace safety agency, which is investigating the incident, said on Thursday night it had issued a prohibition notice against the company.

The notice will remain in place until the ministry believes the machinery and the company's processes are safe.

Plant owner Roshan Nauhria says he is not too concerned by the prohibition, which he expects will only be in place for a few days.

Mr Nauhria says the company takes full precautions when it comes to workers' safety but procedures will be reviewed after Wednesday's explosion.

He says while the explosions do shake some staff, they have never raised major concerns with him.

The prohibition notice came as Manurewa Local Board chair Angela Dalton says she is investigating whether the plant can be closed down.

Ms Dalton says residents and local businesses have been concerned for some time about ongoing explosions at the factory.

Lives at risk - fire advisor

Earlier on Thursday the Fire Service said the company, which recycles car bodies and other scrap metal for export, was risking people's lives by not following safety practice.

Robert Watson, a senior fire risk management officer for Counties Manukau, says there have been ongoing explosions at the plant since it opened in 2011.

Mr Watson says firefighters were called there as often as every three or four weeks until he asked the Auckland Council and the Government's workplace safety agency to intervene about a year ago.

He says the plant doesn't seem to check there are no gas cylinders in the vehicles to be crushed.

The Fire Service believes Wednesday's blast happened when machinery crushed a gas cylinder.

Mr Watson says he will raise his concerns about the plant again with the Auckland Council.

The Fire Service referred Wednesday's incident to MBIE.