WorkSafe charges 13 parties over Whakaari tragedy

By Jessica Tyson

WorkSafe has filed charges against 13 parties over the Whakaari eruption in December last year that claimed the lives of 22 people.

At a press conference today WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes said 10 organisations have been charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. 

“The 10 organisations are each charged that they failed to do what was reasonably practical to ensure the health and safety of workers and, in this case, visitors. If convicted, these organisations could each face a maximum fine of $1.5 million.”

There are three individuals charged under section 44 of the act.

"The three individuals each face a single charge that, as officers of the company, they failed to exercise due diligence in ensuring that the organisation was meeting its health and safety obligations. If convicted, these individuals could each face a maximum fine of $300,000."

Unexpected but not unforseeable

WorkSafe is tasked with investigating workplace incidents to determine whether those with health and safety responsibilities met them. Parkes says the charges conclude the most extensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by WorkSafe.

“This was an unexpected event but that does not mean it was unforeseeable and there is a duty on operators to protect those in their care, he says.

“This tragedy has had a wide-ranging impact on victims, families, communities and iwi. There were 47 people on the island at the time of the eruption, all of whom suffered serious injuries and trauma, and 22 of those have lost their lives. Those who went to the island, did so with the reasonable expectation that there were appropriate systems to ensure they made it home healthy and safe.”

Parkes says Worksafe is unable to name any of the parties charged as they have the right to seek name suppression at their first appearance in Court. WorkSafe will not release the investigation reports into each charged party until the conclusion of the legal process.

'In our prayers'

White Island Tours chairman Paul Quinn confirms his company has been charged with two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act but no employees or directors of the company have been charged.

After Wakaari/White Island erupted on December 19 last year killing 22 people and seriously injuring another 22, the company expressed its heartfelt condolences to the families in New Zealand and abroad who lost their loved ones “and we continue to include them in our prayers,” he says.

“Similarly to the survivors we continue to offer our love and support.

“On the first anniversary of this tragic day we will come together as a community to mourn the victims and pay our respects.”

He says the company will not be making any further comments due to the legal process.