Latest sentencing decision a stark and timely reinforcement of the need to manage Health and Safety risks, including hazardous substances

28 Nov 17

The District Court at Manukau has sentenced Salters Cartage and its director, Ron Salter, for the fatal explosion which killed a contractor in 2015. Judge McIlraith has handed down the most significant sentence against a director since the inception of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
It may have taken 18 months, but we are starting to see the much prophesied serious sentencing outcomes under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA). To many, HSWA does not seem to have improved New Zealand’s attitude to health and safety, as the statistics show there were more workplace deaths in 2016 than before HSWA was implemented. In 2017 there have been 39 workplace fatalities, with the agriculture and transport sectors continuing to have the highest figures.
The District Court has responded with a strong message: fail to adequately manage health and safety, and you will be punished.

A fatal explosion
In 2015, 24 year old Jamey Lee Bowring was killed at a plant operated by Salters Cartage at Wiri, in Auckland when a tank containing mixed fuels exploded. He was onsite as a contractor and was welding the tank at the time it exploded.
Salters Cartage had not carried out a site induction for the victim, nor did it know that welding or hot work was to be carried out that day.
The investigation revealed the company had myriad issues with health and safety compliance.
The tank had been labelled as a diesel tank, but had contained a number of fuels, including petrol and kerosene.
Judge McIlraith described the non-compliance as a “catastrophic safety breach.”
The company and Mr Salter faced a total of 12 charges under HSWA and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO).

Sentencing outcome
The company director, Ronald Salter, was sentenced to four and a half months’ home detention and fined $25,000.
The company was ordered to pay a total of $258,750 in fines for breaching HSWA and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996. The company was also ordered to pay $110,000 in reparation to the victim’s family.

Media messaging
The media have played an important part in the health and safety discussion arising from this case. In the week before the sentencing, Mr Salters gave an interview in which he described attending court for sentencing was to ‘”pay the ledger” for a debt that could never be repaid’
However, the media further reported the victim’s family did not feel Mr Salters’ remorse appeared genuine.

There are no winners when health and safety fails
An horrendous and deeply personal tragedy for those involved, the sentence impose there are no winners when businesses do not take their health and safety obligations seriously.
Judge McIlraith considered it was necessary to impose a significant punishment given the high culpability of the defendants in this case. The sentence also sends a message of deterrence. Taking shortcuts, valuing profit over safety and/or letting complacency take hold in a business will be met with a dim view by WorkSafe and the Courts.

Avoid pitfalls and seek guidance
Last week, we have published an update on the Hazardous Substances Regulations, which come into force on 1 December 2017. A vital part of this regulation is to give guidance on what chemicals can be stored together safely. You can find that guidance here.

WorkSafe have also launched Safe+ this week; a voluntary health and safety performance improvement tool, free to use for all businesses. You can see if this may be useful for you, by taking a look at this website.

If you have any questions about Health and Safety, or want some specific guidance please contact one of our specialist Employment and Health & Safety team members.


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