Pipeline Contractor Sentenced for Safety Failure

Monday, December 14, 2009

According to Maritime New Zealand, the lead contractor on Christchurch's ocean outfall pipeline project has been convicted and fined $115,000 plus costs, after admitting a series of safety lapses on the project - two of the breaches occurring the same day as another accident killed two workers.

In the Christchurch District Court on Dec. 9, McConnell Dowell Constructors Ltd were sentenced after earlier admitting one charge under Section 68 of the Maritime Transport Act (MTA) 1994 and one charge under sections 50 and 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act (HSEA) 1992, resulting in fines of $10,000 and $50,000 respectively. The company was also ordered to pay court costs of $130 on each charge.

The charges were brought by Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) following an investigation into an incident involving the diving barge Flexifloat on 28 October 2008 – the same day that two pipeline workers on the project died in a separate but related accident. Project sub-contractor Heron Construction Ltd, will next week (December 14) face sentencing after pleading guilty to charges relating to that accident, in which Tony Utteridge and Jody Campbell died.

The Flexifloat incident occurred when the barge broke free of its tow vessel in rough weather with 11 workers on board, and began drifting towards the shoreline. The barge, which is restricted for use as diving platform and has no independent means of propulsion, was later towed into port by another vessel.

MNZ General Manager of Maritime Services, Sharyn Forsyth, said aggravating features of the offending included the company allowing workers on board the Flexifloat while under tow, in clear contravention of its own safety policy and in breach of maritime safety rules. Additionally, there was no emergency tow line on board the barge or the towing vessel, while those caught on board the barge were neither trained nor competent in operating its safety equipment.  Nor was the barge certified under the Safe Ship Management system – a requirement of the MTA, similar to a vehicle warrant of fitness.

"Of real concern to MNZ was the fact that despite McConnell Dowell being a well-resourced global company that holds itself up a specialist in these types of construction projects, and which claims to have a strong focus on safety, these two incidents show that it clearly does not," Forsyth said.

The company was also sentenced and fined $27,500 after admitting one further charge under sections 50 and 6 of the HSEA, and fined another $27,500 for admitting a section 65 MTA charge of "operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk, after an MNZ investigation into a second incident on 30 January 2009 revealed workers had again been on board the Flexifloat while under tow.

Forsyth said this was again directly in breach of its own safe operating procedures and specific conditions imposed by MNZ following the 28 October incident. It was ordered to pay court costs of $130 on each charge.

"While the original breaches of maritime rules and employee health and safety standards by the company were bad enough – this was aggravated even further in second round of offending, in which the company’s own safety procedures and specific safety conditions imposed by MNZ to protect workers from further harm were once again clearly ignored. In both cases, these safety failings could have easily led to further potential tragedy on this project."

Forsyth said MNZ would continue to closely monitor maritime operations on the project, which involved regular reports and ongoing safety audits of the operators involved. MNZ would not hesitate to take further action to ensure safety standards were appropriately maintained.

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