By: Sue Dudman
WorkSafe New Zealand will not investigate a significant ammonia leak at Affco’s Imlay plant — instead, the company has agreed to a voluntary review of the incident.
The January 11 leak left three people, including a pregnant woman, needing hospital treatment after being exposed to the toxic gas. This was followed by a smaller leak on January 25 which again required the plant to be evacuated.
A WorkSafe spokeswoman said the health and safety regulator would not investigate the incident.
“The company has agreed to undertake a duty holder review,” she said.
“Duty holder reviews are done when a duty holder is asked by an inspector to review an incident that has occurred. The process identifies why the incident happened and what actions need to be taken by the duty holder to prevent it happening again.”
However, one resident living close to the plant wants more action from the company.
Sharon Semple, whose Bignell Street home is on a rise and in a direct line from the Imlay plant, said the January 11 ammonia leak was just the latest odour issue affecting nearby residents.
She believed Affco should employ a community liaison officer in Whanganui.
“They avoid the community — they don’t actively put themselves out there as part of the community or acknowledge their impact on the community.
“Instead of paying fines for odours when they don’t comply with their conditions, people would feel more lenient towards Affco if they gave back to the community. It would be great if they built something like a skate park for the kids.”
She said the ammonia leak had affected residents as well as the staff.
“I rang the Horizons odour line and they said we would probably be evacuated and to shut all our windows and get all our animals inside. It was stinging your eyes and I had to close up the house because it was so bad.”
Ms Semple said there were frequent odours from the plant and many of her elderly neighbours did not want the hassle of having to ring the odour line to report it.
“If we ring the Horizons odour line and they need to send someone out, they have to come from Palmerston North. By the time they get here the smell has dissipated.
“So sometimes you think ‘I can’t be bothered putting in a complaint’.”
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and Hazardous Substances and New Organism Act 1996, duty holders can be “employers, principals, persons who control places of work, self-employed, employees, persons in charge or persons selling or supplying plant for use on a place of work”.
According to WorkSafe’s website, the duty holder must demonstrate, among other things, that they have “genuinely involved other people (particularly a victim/s and workers) in the review process and taken their views/needs into account”.
They must form “a constructive, workable plan (including timescales and corrective actions) to change their health and safety system for the better and/or make improvements and when required”.
The duty holder must show they have taken responsibility for the incident and are committed to finding ways to do things better. A WorkSafe inspector may visit the workplace to check that the improvements have been completed or are under way.
Source: NZ Herald