(To read Parts 1 and 2, scroll down to May 12 and 13.)
Reporting a fire event
By Mary Wood and Anne Hunt
Understandably, without the Material Safety Data Sheets (MDSS) and important signage, there was confusion from the fire-fighters about what was in the depot.
The lack of adherence to Health and Safety Laws surrounding the fire event should have been reported to Fire and Emergency.
However, the HQ in Wellington revealed nothing was known about the incident, until our telephone with Kerry Stewart ‘Policy and Doctrine Advisor, National Operations’ a month later on 13 February 2018.
Health Protection Team on call
Mid Central DHB has a ‘health protection team’ which operates a 24/7 on-call response to urgent issues.
Outside of normal office hours, the on-call health protection team is contacted via the MDHB hospital switchboard. An on-call Medical Officer of Health maybe called for advice.
But in this particular fire incident at Levin, the DHB was not notified by Fire and Emergency.
Like the Fire and Emergency HQ, communication was so poor between these Government agencies they only became aware of the incident through newspaper articles.
Medical Officer of Health not informed
No information was supplied to the Medical Officer of Health at the time of the fire, and consequently no public health risk assessment was undertaken.
This begs the questions:
- were the residents and firefighters adequately protected from the risks from toxic smoke and fumes?
- have any follow-ups been undertaken by the DHB or Horizons Council since the fire?
We’re guessing not.
Officialdom not following the rules and creating risks
So let’s clarify this: it appears that no adequate signage or MDSS was placed at the Horizon’s poison storage depot prior to, or after the fire.
No Hazardous Substance risk assessment was carried out by Horizons Regional Council or by Fire and Emergency NZ.
Without any information about the risks, no call was made to the DHB to establish whether an evacuation was required, and even if it had been, no evacuation plan existed because even nearby residents had not been warned about what chemicals were stored in the depot.
Firefighters, staff and residents were all put at risk while Horizons staff claimed incorrectly that they did not use the building, let alone know what lethal substances were inside.
As the roof collapsed, aerosols exploded in the heat and fire spread, it is a miracle that no-one was seriously injured or even killed.
But what lessons have been learned?
The fire was officially reported to WorksafeNZ as a ‘notifiable event’ because Horizons had breached Health and Safety law, and yet Claire Morris ‘Response Manager’ at Worksafe confirmed they have declined to investigate the matter.
The DHB cannot monitor the health of staff, volunteers or residents present at the fire because they have not been informed of the risks.
No proper investigation of the cause or outcomes of the fire was possible because no signage was erected by fire crew upon their departure and any evidence at the site was therefore potentially contaminated.
Fire and Emergency NZ have provided us with a risk assessment form, but no evidence that this is enforced at extremely hazardous sites like the Levin depot, which makes this document – along with the health and safety laws surrounding it – worthless.
And meanwhile, what of Horizons, the council who used the building and are legally, ethically and morally responsible for the safety of its staff and citizens?
Have they accepted the blame for their mistakes, confirmed the important lessons learned and informed us of how communication, policies and procedures have been changed to improve safety?
Instead they’ve chosen to try to deflect attention and dismiss legitimate public concerns.
In a farcical claim replicating the false accusations from DoC aimed at Graeme Sturgeon during the Whitianga 1080 storage event, without any evidence they have made an accusation of arson towards an innocent local man.
So the dangers from lethal, toxic fires continue, along with the “she’ll be alright” attitude to health and safety. And as the amount of aerial operations using 1080 poison increases in quantity, location, toxicity and regularity, so does the risk to the public.
Is there a deadly 1080 poison storage depot near you?