'Error' caused leak

By John Maslin

The two men hospitalised after a chemical accident at a Wanganui tannery on Friday will be given all the support they need, their employer has pledged.

Hunter Tait, managing director of Tasman Tanning, told the Chronicle yesterday that both men seriously injured as a result of the accident were experienced workers.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (formerly the Department of Labour) has confirmed it has launched an investigation into the accident.

Mr Tait said it appeared that the incident would have to be put down to operator error.

"Sulphuric acid was added to the wrong processor at the plant and the combination with the chemicals in that processor caused the hydrogen sulphide cloud," he said.

The two men, aged 52 and 51, were pulled unconscious from the company's building in Tod St, Castlecliff. They were transferred to Wellington Hospital in a serious condition. Another 19 people were also taken to Wanganui Hospital for observation before being released on Friday night.

"These two men are very good, long-standing employers with excellent work records. We all make mistakes but all these procedures we have are being investigated by the appropriate government people," he said.

He said all staff were kept up to date about handling chemicals and it was something the company regularly revisited.

"Of course, this sort of thing shouldn't happen but unfortunately it can happen. But the reason behind this event we're unsure of and we won't know until the men involved have been spoken to," Mr Tait said.

Workplace inspectors from the ministry were on site on Saturday morning and gave the company the go-ahead to resume production at midday that day.

"The rest of the factory was actually fully operational from 6 o'clock on Saturday morning, except for that part of the factory where the accident happened," he said.

One of the men was released from Wellington Hospital at the weekend and the second was transferred to Wanganui Hospital. He was expected to be released yesterday.

Apart from the two men hospitalised, all the other staff were back at work on Saturday. One staff member later went home because he still felt ill "although he was back on deck on Sunday".

"What we do know is that it's all good news as far as those two men are concerned, and we're hoping their recovery will be 100 per cent," he said.

"It's always a shock when one of your staff members get injured. It's the last thing any employer wants. We wish both these men a speedy recovery and we'll be giving them all the support they require."

Mr Tait said he spoke to the staff at 6am on Saturday and their response was "amazing".

"They feel for their colleagues, as we all do, but the staff are being positive and getting on with it."

Production at the Tasman Tanning is spread over two factories: the smaller one in Tod St next to the city's port, and the other in the main factory on Heads Rd. The company's production run is seasonal and when it is in full swing it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We're just coming into the 24/7 operation now," he said.

The tanning processes at the Tod St plant also happens at the main plant - "in fact we do more of it on our expanded site than in Tod St," Mr Tait said.


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