Icepak had a large amount of flammable gas on the Tamahere site without the required safety certification, reported the NZ Herald on May 10.
Director Wayne Grattan told NZ Herald reporter Phil Taylor the company had about 200kg of propane LPG, which it used as a refrigerant, at its coolstores at Tamahere. This is double the amount of flammable gas permitted without a location test certificate certifying that the plant met gas safety guidelines.
A sign shows the seat of the fire
Certificates have to be lodged with the Environment Risk Management Authority (Erma) which oversees the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996.
Erma confirmed to the NZ Herald it has no record of a test certificate having been granted for Icepak’s Tamahere plant.
Erma’s hazardous substances general manager, Andrea Eng, said either a test certificate had not been granted or lodged.
Mr Grattan said the company had believed it complied with all regulations, even though it had more than 100kg of LPG – the amount that triggers the need for a location test certificate.
The company had not told the Waikato District Council that it was using propane as a refrigerant.
The opinion that the company complied with safety regulations came from “an electrical inspector who had tested our site for compliance with the NZ Standards, HSNO compliance,” Mr Grattan said.
“It’s not to say we haven’t been tripped up here or done something wrong, but we certainly had had our plant inspected, we understood it complied with the regulations and we believed that we didn’t need to notify the council of any change of refrigerant.
“Now that’s not to say we shouldn’t have done that but we believed we had complied with the rules.”
Erma said electrical safety was covered by electricity regulations, not by the test certification rules set out in HSNO legislation. That involves an authorised test certifier making the site inspections.
Told in a subsequent interview that Erma had no record of a location test certificate for Icepak’s Tamahere coolstores, Mr Grattan told the NZ Herald he did not believe the plant had such a certificate or that the person who examined the Tamahere plant was a test certifier.
“He was an electrical engineer testing electrical systems for compliance with hazardous standards. He wasn’t testing refrigerant gas per se.”
Mr Grattan said regulations were “pretty complicated, a bit confusing and difficult to follow” and the company was unsure it needed a location test certificate.
“We have our solicitor looking into that because it has been raised by both the council and insurance companies.
“No one has answered that question, no one has come back and said `you need those for the type of plant you had’.”
Before the HSNO legislation, territorial authorities had a dangerous goods inspector whose job it was to inspect plants with more than 100kg of LPG. The HSNO Act took that responsibility from councils and put it in the hands of ERMA.
When Icepak doubled the size of its Tamahere plant in 2003, it told the Waikato District Council it would use non-flammable refrigerant freon gas.
A council spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the company was required under the Resource Management Act to inform it of the change to propane.
Circumstances surrounding the fire were contentious, and the council had chosen not to comment until the various inquires were completed.
Mr Grattan confirmed the company was using propane at its Waharoa coolstores.
Waikato Fire Commander Roy Breeze has been reported saying characteristics of the fire indicate that it was caused by a flammable gas such as propane.
Fonterra, owner of most of the product stored in the coolstores, lost about $25 million of dairy product in the fire.
The cost of destroyed buildings, plant and the clean-up will add millions more to the financial cost.
Insurance companies covering Icepak have hired investigation firms Corporate Risks and Vestigo.
The Fire Service and Labour Department are also conducting investigations.