The country’s workplace health and safety regulator, WorkSafe New Zealand, announced Monday that it had filed charges against 10 organizations and three individuals, alleging they did not do what was reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of workers and visitors to White Island.
The organizations each face a maximum fine of 1.5 million New Zealand dollars ($1.1 million), while the individuals face a maximum fine of 300,000 New Zealand dollars ($211,000).
“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,” said WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes.
“That’s an expectation which goes to the heart of our health and safety culture,” he said. “As a nation we need to look at this tragedy and ask if we are truly doing enough to ensure our mothers, fathers, children and friends come home to us healthy and safe at the end of each day.”
The charges follow an investigation which Parkes describes as the “most extensive and complex” in WorkSafe’s history. WorkSafe said it did not investigate the rescue and recovery of victims, meaning that none of the charges relate to any efforts after the eruption.
WorkSafe is not naming the parties charged, as they may seek name suppression when the case has its first court hearing in December.
But some parties have confirmed they are involved. GNS Science — a Crown research organization which monitors volcanic activity — said in a statement that it was facing charges. “We stand by our people and our science — which we will continue to deliver for the benefit of NZ,” GNS said.
“There is no easy process from here, but it is the work of WorkSafe to make sure that if there are questions to be answered that they play a role and leading the charge on them,” she said.