Criminal charges under consideration

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Icepak’s owners may face criminal charges in the wake of the Labour Department investigation of the April 5 explosion and fire that killed one fireman and injured seven others.

The Fire Service yesterday released a report into the fire, which contained damning evidence about a lack of even hazard warning signs at the Tamahere plant and other notable failings in safety features.

It is, however, the Labour Department that can bring prosecutions.

The department’s investigators will consider whether to lay criminal charges against Icepak’s owners, the NZ Herald reported today.

A Department of Labour spokeswoman said the primary goal of its investigation into the April 5 tragedy was to determine what had happened and to ensure steps were taken to avoid this in the future.

“But as a part of that we also identify if there have been any breaches (of the Health and Safety Act and Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act) and then we look to see if it’s relevant to prosecute.”

The Environmental Risk Management Authority can also mount prosecutions under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO).

Unknown to any authority was that Icepak was using Hychill-50, which is 95 per cent propane, 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.

Its multi-gas detector was away for servicing and there were no compliant fire detection or protection systems or hydrants [and] very limited firefighting water.

Today, Australian company HyChill, which manufactures HyChill-50 expressed surprise that its gas in the Icepak plant was odourless.

In a statement, managing director John Clark said it was unclear to the company why no stenching agent was evident in the leaking Hychill-50 refrigerant.

“All Hychill refrigerant products are odourised, as required by the standard AS/NZS 1677, with ethyl mercaptan and, in normal use, are able to be smelt at levels far below a flammable concentration. This is the same odourant as used in LPG and natural gas and the odour should have been very familiar to anyone who has used hydrocarbon gases.

“There is no doubt that the refrigerant that was in use at Icepak was odourised when it was put into the refrigeration system. We are concerned that the fire-fighters were unable to detect the odour in spite of the apparently large leak and would like to know why. It is very important to learn all that can be learned from this tragic incident.”

Hychill, which has been visited by Labour Department investigators in the course of their inquiry, would continue to work with all relevant agencies, Clark said, “to ensure that hydrocarbons could continue to fulfill their role as climate friendly refrigerant solutions while maintaining appropriate safety standards as set out in AS/NZS 1677.”

Labour and Environment Minister Trevor Mallard also yesterday that LPG is covered by ERMA’s 2004 HSNO Approval HSR 001009. This approval prescribes safety precautions for the use of LPG, including the use of signage and emergency management provisions.

All highly-flammable gases, including LPG, used in refrigerant systems currently require use of a stenching (odourising) agent. This is a requirement of AS/NZS 1677, the industry standard for refrigerating systems used in Australia and New Zealand since 1998. This standard covers the safe design, maintenance and operation of refrigeration systems.

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