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Coolstore explosion: Coroner calls for safety changes

Published: 9:12AM Thursday March 22, 2012 Source: ONE News

A coroner has recommended tighter security controls in the coolstore industry after releasing his findings into the 2008 explosion in Tamahere.

Senior firefighter Derek Lovell was killed when leaking hydrocarbon gas at an Icepak Coolstore near Hamilton ignited while he was investigating an automatic fire alarm.

Seven other officers were seriously injured in the explosion on April 5, 2008.

Coroner Peter Ryan said in his findings released today that several failures on the part of the refrigeration industry contributed to Lovell's death.

He said at the time the industry was working under a "complex and disjointed" safety framework, which led to people failing to understand and abide by the regulations.

"These failures prevented Mr Lovell from being made aware of the nature and extent of the hazard he was facing," Ryan said in his report.

"The firefighters were unaware that the refrigerant was hydrocarbon-based and therefore highly flammable, and there was no signage warning them on site.

"As the firefighters entered the Plant Room an explosion occurred. Mr Lovell died as a result of the injuries he sustained in that explosion."

Ryan recommended the refrigeration industry should improve its guidelines and training for the safe use of hazardous substances, and develop a registration system for people dealing with them.

He also suggested the Department of Labour should consider a licensing system for refrigeration engineers and establish an inspection scheme for sites using hazardous substances.

"I trust some good will come from Mr Lovell's death; that the lessons learned from the incident which resulted in his death will be applied to the wider community, resulting in a safer environment for all personnel having to deal with industrial operations utilising hazardous substances," Ryan said.

Waikato Coldstorage Limited was later found guilty of several safety breaches and ordered to pay more than $300,000 in fines and reparation.

It has since stopped using flammable refrigerants on its sites and it has reviewed them for appropriate hazard signs.

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