Health, Safety and Environment

Oil Spill Ship is New Zealand’s Worst Environmental Disaster
Asia Pacific

The Guardian reports that a cargo ship owned by Costamare Inc (Costamare) ran aground a reef off the north coast of New Zealand on 5 October 2011 and is spilling “hundreds of tonnes oil into the ocean”. Reportedly, the ship, which was carrying 1,900 tonnes of oil, has spilled at least 350 tonnes of heavy fuel and at least 88 shipping containers. According to The Guardian, the spill is New Zealand’s worst environmental disaster, with hundreds of oiled birds, dead fish and clumps of oil washing up on pristine beaches. The ship’s captain has reportedly been charged with dangerously operating the vessel and faces fines of up to NZ$10,000 and 12 months in prison. Meanwhile, ship owner Costamare said it was “co-operating fully with local authorities” but did not offer any explanation for the grounding.
The Guardian: New Zealand oil spill ship ripped open and ‘could break up at any point’ (13 October 2011)

In related news, The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reports that the ship was detained in Fremantle in July 2011 by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority for safety and cargo breaches.
SMH: NZ oil spill ship’s safety breaches (14 October 2011)
(Source: The Guardian; SMH)

Gulf Oil Spill Sanctions Ordered

The Guardian reports that oil giant BP, rig operator Transocean and contractor Halliburton have received formal notice of a series of violations leading to the 20 April 2010 explosion which killed 11 workers and spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Reportedly, the three companies breached 15 rules governing offshore drilling and face combined fines of US$45 million. According to The Guardian, the issuing of the notice is the first step in a long legal battle against the companies.
The Guardian: BP and partners face $45m in fines over Gulf oil spill (13 October 2011)
(Source: The Guardian)

ACCC Prosecutes Over Flammable Pyjamas
Asia Pacific

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced that it has instituted Federal CourtĀ proceedings against Cotton On Kids Pty Ltd and Cotton On Clothing Pty Ltd over the sale of childrenā€™s nightwear which exceeded the allowable level of flammability.
ACCC’s media release (6 October 2011)
(Source: ACCC)

Oil Company Pleads Guilty to Criminal Offences

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has announced that oil company Pelican Refining Company (Pelican) has pleaded guilty to violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and to obstruction of justice charges in the US Federal Court. The violations were discovered during a March 2006 inspection by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the US Environmental Protection Authority (US EPA), which identified numerous unsafe operating conditions including:

  • “Pelican had no company budget, no environmental department and no environmental manager;
  • [i]n order to comply with a permit issued under the CAA, the refinery was required to use certain key pollution prevention equipment, but that equipment was either not functioning, poorly maintained, improperly installed, improperly placed into service and/or improperly calibrated;
  • [i]t was a routine practice for over a year to use an emergency flare gun to re-light the flare tower at the refinery which was designed to burn off toxic gasses and provide for the safe combustion of potentially explosive chemicals; because the pilot light was not functioning properly, employees would take turns trying to shoot the flare gun to relight the explosive gasses;
  • [s]our crude oil was stored in a tank that was not properly placed into service and remained in the tank after the roof sank;
  • [a] caustic scrubber designed to remove hydrogen sulfide from emissions was bypassed; and
  • [a] continuous emission monitoring system designed to measure the hydrogen sulfide levels in refinery emissions was not working properly.”

Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno said that “Pelican had demonstrated a manifest disregard for accepted practices that are designed to protect human health and the environment”. Pelican are expected to pay US$12 million in criminal penalties, including $2 million in community service payments to support environmental programs.
DoJ’s media release (12 October 2011)
(Source: DoJ; US EPA)

Housing Industry Safety Lacking
Asia Pacific

South Australian (SA) Industrial Relations Minister Russell Wortley has announced safety in the SA housing industry needs substantial improvement. According to Mr Wortley, official injury statistics of the housing industry show “almost 1,000 injured workers in four years” and “5,100 work days lost due to falls from height”. Contrary to claims that the housing industry has a good workplace safety track record that does not require improved safety laws Mr Wortley states that the statistics provide proof that safety performance within the industry requires action.
Industrial Relations Minister’s media release (26 September 2011)
(Source: Industrial Relations Minister)