Coolstore owners urged to heed rules

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An editorial in today’s Waikato Times urges the coolstore industry to heed the wake up call that was the fatal Icepak fire at Tamahere.

The only thing worse than a tragedy is one that is avoidable, the editorial notes in a comment on the recently released coolstore design guidelines from the Institute of Professional Engineers (IPENZ).

When senior station officer Derek Lovell and seven other firefighters were caught in the explosion that leveled Icepak’s Tamahere coolstore, questions were soon being asked about how to stop it happening again.

One of the more tangible changes arrived last week with the release of a new set of guidelines for coolstores. Put together by engineers and industry leaders under the auspices of the Institution of Professional Engineers (IPENZ), the 67-page practice note uses the lessons from Tamahere and nine other blazes since 1970 to spell out how such buildings should be put together and run.

It’s an admirable effort, but one that begs the question of whether, if the trouble has been taken to compile such guidelines, they should have been made compulsory. And how about retrospective, affecting those buildings already up that don’t meet the guidelines?

When quizzed, outgoing chief executive of the Cold Storage Association, Rachel Harvie, was far from firm: “That would be a decision for the membership and association to have a think about, I suppose, but it might be too difficult,” she said.

The practice note itself was revealing. It noted that while “business survival often requires shaving every last cent” off costs sometimes in the form of minimal compliance designs the client was the one left to consider whether the cost of better designs was worth the benefit in reduced risk.

Given the need to handle the Waikato’s massive outflow of milk, meat, fruit and other primary produce, pulling existing coolstores down and starting from scratch is not a realistic option. Especially as the value of what’s in the coolstore is often greater than the value of the building.

The guidelines are useful though. The practice note does nail down the lessons of the Icepak blast – owners must treat hydrocarbon refrigerants as potentially explosive gases and they need effective fire separation of rooms.

This is but one of dozens of points included which are already backed up by existing legislation. The Building Act and numerous other rules already contain what IPENZ recommends – they have simply made the guidelines a first port of call. With Icepak Coolstore Ltd and its directors facing charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, it shows the legal teeth to make these rules effective are already there.

The coolstore industry will do doubt be looking closely at the coroner’s inquest into Mr Lovell’s death, which is yet to be held. His or her rulings and recommendations may be the most influential through this process.

Tamahere was a wake-up call to the industry and the new set of guidelines are but a starting bid in attempting to prevent a repeat.

Coolstore operators must follow these guidelines.

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