WorkSafe Whakaari investigation cost $5.5m

7:27 pm on 18 March 2021

WorkSafe has spent about $5.5 million on its investigation of the 9 December 2019 Whakaari eruption that killed 22 people.

A view of Whakaari/White Island from the air as a helicopter approaches.

A view of Whakaari/White Island from the air as a helicopter approaches. Photo: Supplied/Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

The investigation, between December 2019 and December 2020, into the events leading up to the fatal eruption has seen 13 parties facing charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

WorkSafe spent close to $2m on external legal fees, $400,000 renting offices in Whakatāne, nearly $1.6m on staff wages, $900,000 on consultants, $159,000 on flights, $78,500 on rental vehicles, $202,000 on accommodation, 172,000 on meals and $89,000 on other costs.

The regulator's business performance, finance and modernisation general manager Allan Frost said it was the most comprehensive and complex investigation it had undertaken.

It included 27 staff members at its peak, including four investigations managers and 16 investigations inspectors. The investigation team also included specialist, legal and support staff.

"The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) does not mandate the length of an investigation," Frost said.

"However, HSWA provides a limitation period for WorkSafe to bring proceedings for an offence."

The proceedings needed to be brought within 12 months of the incident being known to the regulator.

"This time pressure meant that WorkSafe had to ensure the investigation was resourced adequately, as a charging decision had to be reached in that time frame."

Those charged by WorkSafe include seven companies and three individuals.

They are White Island Tours, Whakaari Management and its directors and owners James, Peter and Andrew Buttle, Kahu NZ, The National Emergency Management Agency, GNS Science, Volcanic Air Safari, Aerius Ltd, Inflite Charters, ID Tours and Tauranga Tourism Services.

The tourism companies are facing charges relating to the health and safety of tourists and staff.

Two White Island Tourism guides lost their lives in the eruption and another two were seriously injured.

Kahu Helicopters director Mark Law was one of the pilots who helped rescue people from Whakaari after the eruption. He rescued five people from the island.

WorkSafe has previously stated it did not investigate the rescue and recovery of victims after the eruption. Rather, investigations centred on the actions of the parties during everyday operations. Alleged offending goes as far back as 2016.

Those charged are expected to appear in the Whakatāne District Court on 3 June.

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