3 Mar 2015

Charges 'a step in right direction'

7:54 am on 3 March 2015

WorkSafe's move to charge the Ministry of Social Development over last year's fatal shootings is a step in the right direction, according to a health and safety lawyer.

Ashburton shooting

A scene examination takes places following the Ashburton shooting. Photo: RNZ / Jemma Brackebush

WorkSafe New Zealand announced yesterday it is charging the Ministry of Social Development over the shooting last year in which two workers were killed and another injured.

A review into the Ashburton shooting found all practicable steps were taken to ensure the safety of staff at the office where the shooting took place.

"When people die at work, someone must be held to account" said Hazel Armstrong, a lawyer who specialises in health and safety.

"The precedent for the case will be other workplaces with similar risks," she said.

"What the court will look at is other failures to provide a safe workplace of a similar type, such as armed robbery in a bank, or at ACC. So, they'd be looking at similar offences to look at the failure of the employer. Did they take sufficient steps to protect their employees from harm?"

While the Ministry could not be fined, it could be ordered to pay compensation to the victims' families, Ms Armstrong said.

The Public Services Association supported the decision to charge the Ministry of Social Development, but did not want to prejudge the court's ruling.

"Everybody has the right to go to work knowing they'll be home safely at the end of the day" said national secretary, Richard Wagstaff.

"I don't know if safety barriers such as glass or mesh are necessary, but all options should be considered," he said.

"I don't think anybody wants to see the service become less personalised and less effective. Having said that I don't think anybody wants to see anyone get killed at work again and that's of paramount importance," said Mr Wagstaff.

Ministry of Social Development chief executive Brendan Boyle said the ministry would consider its position once it knew the full details of the charge.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley did not want to comment other than to say it was important to understand as much as possible about how it happened and whether it was preventable.

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