22 Mar 2012

Coroner recommends tighter coolstore rules

7:58 am on 22 March 2012

A coroner has called for lessons learned from the Tamahere coolstore explosion four years ago to be widely publicised within the refrigeration industry, and says consideration should be given to licensing operators.

Firefighter Derek Lovell died from traumatic injuries sustained in the explosion and subsequent fire at the coolstore plant, near Hamilton, on 5 April 2008. Seven other firefighters were injured.

The explosion was set off by leaking hydrocarbon-based gases, which are highly flammable.

Coroner Peter Ryan has recommended the refrigeration industry develops guidelines for the safe use of hazardous substances, that a registration system for people involved in designing and implementing refrigerant systems be established, and that there is better training in the safe use of refrigerants.

Mr Ryan wants the Department of Labour to set up a system for inspecting plants using hazardous substances which pose a significant threat to life or property.

The Institute of Refrigeration Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers says any scheme to license and police the industry would need legislation to back it up, for it to work.

The institute's president, Robert Mannes, says any registration scheme his group organised could only be voluntary, unless the law backed it up.

"We've been trying to push the Government for a number of years to bring in registration ... but every time we get a step forward it feels like it's been three steps backwards."

The Fire Service says the coroner's report endorses some of its own recommendations to make sure the same thing doesn't happen again.

Director of operations Paul McGill says a review of the refrigeration industry after the explosion put changes in place.

He says these mean LPG is now odourised, and signs are posted warning of the type of refrigerants being used inside coolstores.

Call for corporate manslaughter charge

A member of the Tamahere community in Waikato says there should be a charge of corporate manslaughter to deal with the aftermath of events such as the coolstore explosion.

The company owning the plant, one of its directors and a company contracted to it were charged under the Health and Safety in Employment Act for placing their workers at risk, but not the firefighters.

Philippa Stevenson disputes a claim by the coroner that the idea of a corporate manslaughter charge was radical.

She says the UK has corporate manslaughter and homicide charges and Australia has an industrial manslaughter charge.