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Company Sentenced Over Workers' Deaths

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Company Sentenced Over Workers' Deaths

A sub-contractor on Christchurch's ocean outfall project has been ordered to pay fines and reparation totalling $213,000, after admitting critical safety lapses Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) says led to the deaths of two workers.

At sentencing in the Christchurch District Court today, Heron Construction Ltd was ordered to pay $65,000, and court costs of $130, after admitting a charge under Section 50 and 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act (HSEA) 1992 of "failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees". The company admitted a second charge, under Section 68 of the Maritime Transport Act (MTA) 1994, of "acting without the necessary maritime document" and was convicted and discharged.

The charges were brought by MNZ following an investigation into an accident that claimed the lives of workers Tony Utteridge and Jody Campbell on board the 5.8m naiad Mugwop on 28 October 2008.

The company was also ordered to pay reparation of $148,000 to be distributed amongst the families of the two men.

MNZ General Manager of Maritime Services, Sharyn Forsyth, said the sentence underscored the importance of companies following established maritime and health and safety procedures. "Of real concern to MNZ was the fact that despite Heron being a well-resourced company that specialises in these types of construction projects, with the associated requirements for a strong focus on safety, its actions on the day were anything but safe," she said.

"All companies, regardless of their size or the nature of the project, have a duty to ensure workers are kept safe while on the job. In this case, a series of critical failures by Heron cost two men their lives."

Around 4.30pm on the day of the accident, Mr Utteridge and Mr Campbell were on board the Mugwop, which was being used as a transfer vessel to carry crew to another barge, the Machiavelli, as its crew had earlier been diverted to assist in the recovery of the Flexifloat.

However, due to the rough sea conditions, the Mugwop could not be secured to the Machiavelli as per normal practice. Mr Campbell and Mr Utteridge departed in the Mugwop for Lyttelton around 6.20pm, but never arrived. A rescue response was launched about 8.15pm, after the company reported the Mugwop overdue. Both mens' remains were later recovered.

Ms Forsyth said aggravating features of the tragedy were ignorance by the company of known rough weather and sea conditions forecast for the day of the accident, and on the day itself. Its systems for responding to an overdue vessel were also poorly organised and it had failed to consider this possibility in its emergency safety procedures. Nor did the Mugwop have a valid vessel Safe Ship Management certificate - an important safety requirement for commercial vessels similar in principle to a vehicle warrant of fitness.

"MNZ expects that anyone working on challenging projects such as this in the maritime environment meets and maintains the highest safety standards. This includes having the appropriate steps in place to cover all likely eventualities, such as poor weather and the possibility of overdue vessels. However, this was clearly not the case on the day, resulting in tragic consequences."

Ms Forsyth said MNZ continues to closely monitor maritime operations on the project, which involved regular reports and ongoing safety audits.

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