New Zealand water company to pay $400,000 for 2011 gas explosion
17 September 2013
Watercare must pay more than $400,000 for the 2011 gas explosion in Auckland that killed a worker and cost another his legs. The company, which is responsible for Auckland's waste and drinking water, was fined $81,000 and ordered to pay $315,000 in reparations to the victims of the blast.
The family of Philomen Gulland, 48, of Canada, who was killed in the explosion, was awarded a total of $100,000. Each of her children was given $40,000 to be held in a trust. Ian Winson, who lost both his legs, was granted $40,000.
Two further Watercare employees and three contractors were awarded a total of $175,000.
"Fixing amounts of reparation in no way is an attempt to place a monetary value on a tragic loss of life, or the range of injuries suffered by survivors. That is an impossible task," Judge Rob Ronayne said in the Auckland District Court on September 13.
The explosion occurred when natural gas leaked into a water mains pipe which was being upgraded. The gas was ignited by contractors using a blowtorch while replacing an air valve.
Watercare employees were inspecting the pipe at the time of the blast.
The company had pleaded guilty to two charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, of failing to ensure the safety of its employees, and employees of a contractor.
Watercare failed to alert the contractors of the history of natural gas in the area, and previous leaks.
Their employees had failed to follow the company's health and safety procedures in confined spaces and in the presence of explosive gases. The company is liable for the failures of its employees.
"If those steps had been taken there probably wouldn't have been an explosion at all, and there certainly wouldn't have been any injuries," Judge Ronayne said.
Watercare accepted the financial penalties and reparations of the court, chief executive Mark Ford said. "We deeply regret the incident that led to the injuries that occurred. We continue to offer our support and offer our ongoing sympathy to our employees and their families," he said.
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