An Auckland business owner has been sentenced to home detention after a worker at his site was killed in an enormous fuel tank explosion.

Jamey Lee Bowring, 24, was killed after the 100,000-litre fuel tank he was welding at Salter's Cartage, a South Auckland waste removal company, exploded on September 15, 2015.

The explosion sent him and debris flying about 100m across the site and also rocked buildings and shattered windows.

Submissions for the sentencing of the company and its director Ronald Thomas Salter, who were prosecuted by WorkSafe NZ, were heard late last month in the Manukau District Court, before Judge Richard McIlraith reserved his decision.

Advertisement

Today, Judge McIlraith sentenced Salter to four-and-a-half months' home detention and find him $25,000. He also fined the company a total of $258,750 for the death of the former Huntly College student.

Judge McIlraith said the explosion was so great the tank become elliptical and moved from its original foundations.

He said it was hard to find a case with a more catastrophic safety breach, and that punitive punishment for Salter was necessary.

WorkSafe NZ prosecutor Simon Mount QC has said the Salter's Cartage site had "high hazards" and the ability to cause "catastrophic harm".

The police and WorkSafe investigation found "widespread non-compliance" at the site regarding safety.

Mount had argued that a fine of $400,000 was appropriate.

Salter's counsel Stephen Bonnar QC had argued at the initial hearing that his client and company should be fined no more than $320,000.

Jamey Bowring's family has said Ron Salter has shed
Jamey Bowring's family has said Ron Salter has shed "crocodile tears" over the incident. Photo / Supplied

Salter told the Herald before sentencing that he had come to "pay the ledger" on a debt that could never be met.

He offered his sorrow to Bowring's family, and said although it could not measure against losing a child, the death had struck him and the company he started 38 years ago.

However, Bowring's mum Sarah Ferguson has said she does not accept Salter's remorse and described his "arrogant behaviour" while he "portrayed himself as a victim".

After the accident, Salter created a scholarship to help train young welders.

The court has heard the family was particularly perturbed to learn through the media that Salter was establishing a scholarship in Bowring's name without consulting them.

Salter's interviews with media, where he discussed details of a private restorative justice meeting, also upset the family, the court heard.

Ferguson said Salter was crying "crocodile tears".

"We will forever have an empty chair at the dinner table and an unopened present under the Christmas tree," she said.

Bowring's younger brother, Sid Ferguson, also said he was "haunted" by the state of his sibling's body after the accident.

"The hole Jamey has left in my life is only getting bigger," he added.

Judge McIlraith awarded the Bowring family $110,000 in emotional harm reparation.

Ferguson was also awarded an additional $2865, and $15,209 was awarded to a neighbouring business of Salter's Cartage for damages.

The explosion sent Bowring and debris flying through the air for nearly 100m. Photo / Nick Reed
The explosion sent Bowring and debris flying through the air for nearly 100m. Photo / Nick Reed

Bowring had been working on tank 20, which had been labelled a diesel tank. But it was used instead for waste oil and held a combination of fuels and gas.

The young man was on the site after offering to help his mother's partner, Trevor Ackers, carry out maintenance work on the tanks.

He had taken a sick day from his usual job at GT Engineering.

Ackers' Huntly business RaceWorks, which was also charged after the accident, had been contracted to Salter's Cartage.

Judge McIlraith said RaceWorks didn't properly train Bowring for the work he was doing on the day of the accident.

RaceWorks was convicted and discharged and not ordered to pay any costs.

Court documents show the explosion threw the 450kg tank roof 100m away, landing on a public road.

A Salter's Cartage worker was nearly impaled on a piece of the walkway Bowring had been welding.

Shrapnel also destroyed eight vehicles and damaged 22 others.

Emergency services at the scene on the day of the explosion. Photo / Greg Bowker
Emergency services at the scene on the day of the explosion. Photo / Greg Bowker

Since the explosion, Salter's Cartage has spent $1.5 million to repair the site and bring it to a higher level of safety compliance, the court has heard.

WorkSafe's deputy general manager of assessment and operations Jo Pugh said the case against Salter and his company showed a "failure to comply with clearly stated obligations can have serious consequences".

"It's not the size of the business that matters but the risk of the work they are doing. A lot of people are more worried about compliance than they are about caring for their people," she said.

Pugh said business owners needed to consider health and safety as a core duty and not an "add on".

Business.govt.nz manager Matt Kennedy-Good said compliance - along with cash flow, time, and staff - was one of three main reasons cited by small and medium business as areas of difficulty.