NZ: Thirteen charges laid over volcano deaths
Ten organisations and three company officers face maximum work health and safety fines totalling NZ$15.9 million (A$15.129 million), after being charged this week in relation to the Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption that killed 22 people, including 14 Australians, in December 2019. Most of those on the New Zealand island at the time were tourists from a cruise ship, and being guided by a local tour company. It has been reported that they were not alerted to the elevated risk of eruption, identified by New Zealand authorities, until they were on the island.
WorkSafe New Zealand has charged nine organisations with breaching section 36 ("Primary duty of care") of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, in allegedly failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and other persons at the island. A 10th organisation will face either a section-36 charge or a charge under section 37 ("Duty of PCBU who manages or controls workplace"). Each charge carries a maximum fine of NZ$1.5 million (A$1.427 million).
In addition, three individuals were charged with breaching section 44 ("Duty of officers") of the Act, in allegedly failing to comply with their duties, as company directors or individuals with significant influence over their companies, to exercise due diligence to ensure their companies met their health and safety obligations in relation to the island. The officers face maximum fines of NZ$300,000 (A$285,444) each.
WorkSafe NZ chief executive Phil Parkes said while the volcanic eruption "was an unexpected event, but that does not mean it was unforeseeable. There is a duty on operators to protect those in their care," he said. "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.”