Charges laid over fatal coolstore explosion

By NZ Herald staff, James Ihaka

Investigators have laid charges in relation to the Waikato coolstore explosion which killed senior station officer Derek Lovell and seriously injuring seven of his colleagues.

But who has been charged and with what has not yet been made public.

The Department of Labour Waikato manager Ona de Rooy said those details will be revealed at the first court appearance.

A date for the appearance has yet to be set down.

"I understand that there is a strong public interest in the outcome of this investigation but the department must respect the court process, including any rights the parties may have to seek name suppression," Ms de Rooy said.

She said the next stage of the department's investigation would be to look at possible changes to industry practice to prevent an accident like the coolstore fire from happening again.

The Fire Service released its report on Tuesday, after nearly five-month inquiry into the fatal explosion and blaze at Tamahere.

A multi-gas detector on a fire appliance was away for servicing and there were no compliant fire detection or protection systems or hydrants and very limited firefighting water.

The 155-page report said it was not clear whether the coolstore had fully complied with requirements to manage and use flammable refrigerants.

It said Mr Lovell's Red Watch crew responded to the callout without knowing Hychill Minus 50, which is 95 per cent propane, was used there as a refrigerant.

The facility did not display any hazardous substances warning signs nor did it have a gas stenching agent to warn firefighters of the leak.

However Hychill said all its refrigerant products were odorised and could be smelt at levels far below a flammable concentration.

Earlier this week Hychill Australia Managing Director John Clark said: "There is no doubt that the refrigerant that was in use at Icepak was odorised when it was put into the refrigeration system."

Mr Clark said Hychill was concerned firefighters could not detect the odour and would like to establish why that was the case.

Fire Services chief executive Mike Hall told the Herald on Tuesday that the months since the tragedy had been a "very emotional time" for staff, but there was relief among firefighters who were cleared of any blame for the explosion.

"I don't think anger is perhaps the right word, frustration, maybe, that the circumstances occurred as they did," he said.

Icepak managing director Wayne Grattan released a statement on Tuesday and said his company had "at all times" complied with its regulatory commitments.

He said safety matters were always treated with "the utmost seriousness and care" but some regulations were difficult to understand.

The company had thought it had complied, but later realised it didn't have a location test certificate required under Hazardous Goods and New Organisms legislation, which is to certify plants with more than 100kg of flammable gas.

The Tamahere plant had about 400kg of Hychill Minus 50.

Life savers

Any of these nine factors would have prevented Mr Lovell's death, according to the Fire Services report.

1) Applying hazardous substances regulations at the installation.

2) Prior notification to the Fire Service that there were hazardous substances at the premises.

3) Receipt of an application for approval of an evacuation scheme.

4) A familiarisation visit by local Fire Service staff.

5) Fire Service awareness of the large-scale use of flammable refrigerants in New Zealand.

6) Warning signs at the coolstore.

7) Adding a smell to the refrigerant gas, so firefighters would know of its presence.

8) Gas detectors to warn fire crews.

9) The fire crews using a portable gas detector.

- With NZPA

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