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Coroner rules on Tamahere coolstore death

00:01 Thu Mar 22 2012

A failure to comply with industry safety standards laid the foundation for the explosion at a Waikato coolstore in 2008 which killed firefighter Derek Lovell, a coroner has ruled.

Mr Lovell, 49, of Cambridge, died of traumatic injuries sustained in a massive explosion at the Icepak coolstore at Tamahere, near Hamilton, in April 2008.

He was one of eight firefighters who responded to an alarm at the coolstore, which was triggered by a significant leakage of a highly flammable propane-based refrigerant.

Just moments after Mr Lovell and two other firefighters - unaware of the risk - entered the building to investigate, there was a huge explosion.

All eight firefighters at the scene were seriously injured and Mr Lovell died in Waikato Hospital.

In his findings into Mr Lovell's death, made public on Thursday following a hearing in September, coroner Peter Ryan says the failure of the plant's design to meet industry standards, as well as the ongoing operation of the plant while in breach of those standards, and health and safety laws, contributed to the fatal explosion.

He says that at the time of the explosion, it wasn't mandatory for refrigeration plants to comply with the relevant industry safety standards.

Mr Ryan says that had the plant complied, there would have been signage warning the firefighters of the presence of flammable refrigerants.

"Nothing in their training or experience prepared them for the situation they faced that day."

Mr Ryan has made a raft of recommendations to relevant bodies in the refrigeration industry and to the Department of Labour to improve compliance with safety standards.

He also supported Department of Labour and Fire Service safety recommendations following their investigations into the explosion.

The department has since successfully prosecuted Icepak, one of its directors, Wayne Grattan, and Mobile Refrigeration Specialists, which installed the refrigeration system.