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Whanganui com­pany Tas­man Tan­ning has been fined $73,000 and or­dered to pay repa­ra­tions to­talling $ 90,000 over a toxic gas in­ci­dent that left four of its work­ers un­con­scious.

Work­ers at Tas­man Tan­ning's Tod Street tan­nery were ex­posed to hy­dro­gen sul­phide gas in Novem­ber 2012 af­ter two chem­i­cals used in the leather mak­ing process – sul­phuric acid and hy­dro­sul­phide – were mixed.

Ex­po­sure to hy­dro­gen sul­phide can cause nau­sea, headaches, mem­ory loss, un­con­scious­ness, con­vul­sions and death.

The gas knocked out two work­ers, Joseph Ratana and War­ren Burgess, on the mez­za­nine f loor of the tan­nery.

A third man, Taniela Balivou, fell un­con­scious when he at­tempted to go to their aid and an­other worker in­volved in res­cue ef­forts also passed out.

The tan­nery was evac­u­ated. The un­con­scious men were even­tu­ally pulled from the build­ing by co-work­ers, who found two breath­ing masks that en­abled them to make it up to the mez­za­nine.

Mr Ratana and Mr Burgess were hos­pi­talised and placed into med­i­cally in­duced co­mas as part of their treat­ment.

The pair suf­fered short­term mem­ory loss and tem­po­rary loss of sight. Mr Balivou re­gained con­scious­ness out­side the tan­nery.

Tas­man Tan­ning pleaded guilty in the Whanganui District Court on 26 March 2014 to one charge un­der the Health and Safety in Em­ploy­ment Act of fail­ing to take all prac­ti­ca­ble steps to en­sure the safety of its work­ers.

WorkSafe's gen­eral man­ager of in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Brett Mur­ray, said Tas­man Tan­ning could have taken a num­ber of steps to avoid such an in­ci­dent, in­clud­ing is­su­ing em­ploy­ees with per­sonal gas de­tec­tors that would have warned them about the high hy­dro­gen sul­phide lev­els.

“Work­ers at Tas­man Tan­ning were also not given ad­e­quate train­ing to re­spond to such an emer­gency.

“There was no proper safe op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure in place and work­ers did not en­sure their own safety be­fore go­ing to the aid of Mr Ratana and Mr Burgess. This re­sulted in se­ri­ous harm to some of those em­ploy­ees.

“The com­pany could also have had sep­a­rate chemical stor­age tanks for each ves­sel used in the tan­ning process.

“Shared stor­age tanks meant that sub­stances in­tended for one ves­sel could mis­tak­enly be trans­ferred to the wrong ves­sel. The re­mote lo­ca­tion of the hold­ing tank con­trol panel also added to the pos­si­bil­ity of an er­ror.

“This was an ex­tremely se­ri­ous in­ci­dent. The fine is a pow­er­ful re­minder to all in­volved in the use of haz­ardous chem­i­cals of the im­por­tance of proper plan­ning, train­ing, and pro­ce­dures.”

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