A judge today fined Mobile Refrigeration Specialists $56,000 and ordered the company to pay $175,000 to the victims of the April 5, 2008 Icepak Coolstores blast, the widow of fireman Derek Lovell and the seven other firemen injured in the tragedy.
Icepak Coolstores was fined a total of $37,200, its managing director Wayne Grattan $30,000 and the company ordered to pay reparation of $95,000 to Milli Lovell and the seven firemen.
The figures were well down on the fines sought by the Labour Department, which brought the charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, and reparation of $575,000 sought by a court appointed lawyer acting on behalf of the firemen.
Judge Robert Spear said he would have liked to have awarded higher compensation but was constrained by the fact that both companies were insolvent. Icepak had been denied an insurance pay out over the blast and fire but three directors, Grattan, Jan van Eden and Iain Slight, had offered to pay reparation out of their own pockets. They could only manage $95,000.
Mobile Refrigeration Specialists, although insolvent, had received an insurance pay out of $500,000 but after legal costs was left with $263,000 available for reparation.
Outside court, firefighter Denis Wells, reading a statement on behalf of his colleagues, said Icepak Coolstores was part of a much larger group of companies and was hiding behind a “corporate veil claiming to be able to offer no more than they have.”
The company had always put profit before safety, which meant that when the firefighters responded to a fire alarm last year they had no idea that highly explosive propane was in use at the Tamahere plant.
The firemen had not sought compensation. Firefighting was their duty, Mr Wells said.
“To Icepak it has always been about money,” he said.
The firefighters had agreed among themselves how any compensation would be shared. They wanted the lion’s share to go to Milli Lovell and the next largest amount to their most injured colleague, Merv Neil, who, it was suggested, will never return to work.
Milli Lovell will receive $60,000 for the death of her husband, Merv Neil $50,000, Brian Halford and David Beanland $40,000 each with $20,000 each to Alvin Walker, Adrian Brown, Denis Wells and Cameron Grylls.
Judge Spear said he found both Icepak and Mobile Refrigeration personnel to be “fundamentally good, sound people”.
“It was clear mistakes had been made with tragic consequences but it was too far to go to say that it had been because of cost cutting or callous indifference to safety.”
Mobile Refrigeration director Warren Cook had recommended the use of the highly flammable gas, HyChill -50, but was clearly out of his depth with the scale and the complexity of the large Tamahere site. He could have and should have done more to ensure systems at Icepak were up to the mark, the judge said.
Icepak and Grattan had been made aware of inadequacies in the systems but had paid insufficient attention, Judge Spear said.
“In my judgment there was a general failure to ensure safe refrigeration systems operated at the coolstores with tragic consequences that could easily have been worse.”