The nation’s workplace health and safety organization, WorkSafe New Zealand, announced Monday that it has filed charges against 10 organizations and three individuals, claiming they did not do what is feasible to ensure the health and safety of workers and visitors to White Island.
Each organization faces a maximum fine of NZ $ 1.5 million ($ 1.1 million), while individuals face a maximum fine of NZ $ 300,000 ($ 211,000).
“This was an unexpected event, but that doesn’t mean it was unexpected,” said Phil Parks, CEO of WorkSafe. “There is an obligation on operators to protect those under their care.”
“This is an expectation that goes to the core of our health and safety culture,” he said. “As a nation, we need to look at this tragedy and ask whether we are really doing enough to ensure that our mothers, fathers, children and friends return to us at the end of each day.”
The accusations come on the heels of an investigation described by Parks as “the most comprehensive and complex” in WorkSafe history. WorkSafe said it had not investigated the rescue and recovery of victims, which means none of the charges relate to any post-blast efforts.
WorkSafe does not name the accused parties, as they may seek to conceal the names when the case has its first hearing in December.
However, some parties have confirmed their involvement. GNS Science – a Crown research organization that monitors volcanic activity – said in a statement that it faces charges. The GNS said: “We stand with our people and our flag – which we will continue to do for New Zealand.”
“There is no easy process from here,” she said, “but it is WorkSafe’s job to make sure that if there are questions that need to be answered, they play a role and lead responsibility for them.”