A litany of health and safety failings has been laid bare in the Wellington District Court, where Waste Management has been sentenced for the chemical poisoning of a worker.
Jim Gideon died in August 2017, after being overcome by hydrogen sulphide gas from a treatment pit at Waste Management’s facility in Seaview, Lower Hutt.
Mr Gideon had been directed to carry out a dangerous mixing of reactive chemicals to treat hazardous waste from the Haywards substation.
The waste had sat unmarked at the site for six months before being dealt with. During this time, the waste was never officially recorded, nor tested or labelled by the site chemist. A destruction certificate was issued despite the waste having not actually been destroyed.
On the day of the fatal poisoning, the hydrogen sulphide alarm repeatedly rang at the site, but work continued regardless. Jim Gideon collapsed mid-afternoon, after exposure to at least 500 parts per million of hydrogen sulphide. The maximum workplace exposure allowed is 10 parts per million over an eight hour period.
WorkSafe’s investigation uncovered a breakdown of systems at the site, with health and safety failures at every level. These included improper storage and hazard identification, a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers, and inadequate risk assessment.
“Jim Gideon’s death was completely unnecessary and avoidable. It’s only by luck that there were not multiple fatalities at Seaview that day,” says WorkSafe’s national manager of investigations, Hayden Mander.
“Exposing workers to this degree of danger is unacceptable to WorkSafe, and negligent in the extreme. Waste Management’s failure on so many levels is appalling.”
In sentencing, Judge Davidson said a “wholesale systemic failure” had led to the creation of a “fatal gas chamber” at the facility. He imposed a fine of $450,000 and ordered reparations of $360,000.
Read more about preventing harm from hydrogen sulphide
Read more about WorkSafe prosecutions
- Waste Management NZ Limited was sentenced at the Wellington District Court on 31 May 2022
- A fine of $450,000 was imposed
- Reparations totalling $360,000 were ordered
- Waste Management NZ Limited was sentenced under sections 36(1)(a), 48(1) and (2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
- being a PCBU having a duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who work for the PCBU, while workers were at work in the business or undertaking, did fail to comply with that duty and that failure exposed any individual to a risk of death or serious injury or serious illness arising from exposure to hydrogen sulphide gas.
- The maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding $1.5 million.
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