Safe Air 'knew of engine risk'

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 07:10 16/11/2012

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The original fine against Marlborough aviation company Safe Air after one of its engineers was killed at work last year was "manifestly inadequate", Justice Kos has ruled.

His decision on an appeal to the High Court against the original sentence was released this month.

The decision on the fine had been reported but not the reasoning.

The decision said the original ruling did not give blame to Safe Air over the death of Renwick man Miles Hunter, who died while working on an engine at Woodbourne airfield on August 8 last year. He was sucked into a C-130 Hercules engine fixed to an outdoor test bed.

Justice Kos said the company knew about the risks of the testing operation.

Its engine starting ground run procedure manual warned personnel of the danger of ingestion or severe injury when walking near the intakes and exhausts of engines while they were running on the test bed. The danger of airflow from an engine was also recorded in its hazards register, where the scores given reflected the potential danger, the decision said. The probable frequency score given was two, meaning it had happened in the past; the potential severity score was four, meaning possible fatality; and the risk rating was eight, the highest risk rating to be found in that section of the register. "The degree of culpability by Safe Air in this case was high," Justice Kos said.

Safe Air bought the test bed from the United States in 2002 and modified it so people could walk in front of the air intake. However, a handrail was more to stop people falling to the ground than from being sucked into the engine.

By modifying it without considering the safety implications of doing so, Safe Air did not meet industry standards, the decision said. "The risk of ingestion into aircraft engines was a hazard known to Safe Air." No-one had thought it possible for a person to be sucked into the engine on the test bed. But that depended on employees following relatively informal work practice, the judge said.

It was also thought to be safe as long as no-one walked closer than 45 centimetres to the air intake.

Justice Kos concluded the relevant starting point for sentencing should have been $125,000, rather than $100,000.

He increased the fine by $13,750 after the appeal by the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry.

The Air New Zealand subsidiary, based at Woodbourne airfield near Blenheim, was originally fined $56,250 and ordered to pay reparation of $22,500 after a hearing in Blenheim District Court in May on one charge under the Health and Safety Act.

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- The Marlborough Express

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