Kirsty Wynn

Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

School calls for action on boilers

More deaths feared if inspections not consistent around country.

Richard Nel died in the explosion. Photo / Supplied
Richard Nel died in the explosion. Photo / Supplied

A school charged after a boiler room explosion killed a staff member and left a contractor with permanent injuries wants action before tragedy strikes again.

It has been three years since the horrific accident at Orewa College took the life of caretaker Richard Nel and permanently injured contractor Robin Tubman.

The Department of Labour found the school had failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of the employee and contractor and ordered the school board to pay $75,000 in reparations to Nel's family and $55,000 to Tubman.

Tubman still requires three rehab sessions a week. Last year, the father-of-three had an operation to insert a plastic skull over his frontal lobe to replace shattered bone.

Since the 2009 explosion, the school has tried to get a national boiler inspection system set up - much the same as for lifts and fire alarms.

"It has been three years, we understand things are busy but it has been a long time for it to be sorted," principal Kate Shevland said.

"There needs to be clarity and if these boilers are hazards, as they obviously are, there needs to be consistency of inspections throughout the country."

The school said it had maintained the boiler but records were not up to expectation and the school was found to be in breach of the Health and Safety Act.

Shevland said the Ministry of Education had national standards for inspections of lifts and fire alarm systems and the same strict regulations should apply to boilers.

"We suggested that boilers in schools should be considered hazardous therefore there should be some national system inspecting boilers."

About 40 per cent of the country's 2500 schools still have old boiler systems which were maintained by the Ministry of Education until 1989 when Tomorrow's Schools was introduced.

But now lay school board members were in charge, often using untrained people to check boilers sporadically and potentially putting kids' lives at risk.

Safety expert John O'Reilly said schools needed to be more educated at identifying all hazards to staff and pupils if they wanted to avoid prosecution.

He said schools renovating and starting new builds were also often unaware they were responsible for ensuring the area was safe, even when using external contractors.

"So many schools are leaving themselves exposed because they think project managers are looking after health and safety when they are not," he said.

kirsty.wynn@hos.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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