Inflite Charters plead guilty to White Island eruption failings – fined more than $227,000

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A charter company has been sentenced for health and safety failings in relation to the Whakaari/White Island eruption, fined $227,500 together with an order to pay prosecution costs of $40,000. The maximum penalty if $1.5 million.

WorkSafe New Zealand carried out its largest ever investigation into the circumstances of tourists and workers being on the island leading up to the eruption on 9 December 2019.

“It’s encouraging to see Inflite Charters Limited plead guilty at this reasonably early stage in the court process and take accountability for not doing enough to keep people safe,” says WorkSafe Chief Executive Phil Parkes.

“While Inflite Charters Limited didn’t have customers on Whakaari/White Island when it erupted, it had facilitated a tour earlier in the day. It very easily could have been their customers killed or harmed if the eruption had happened at a different time.

“This is a clear reminder to all businesses they are responsible for keeping people healthy and safe from when work is planned to when the work concludes – not just when the activity is happening.”

Twelve other parties have been charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 in relation to activities on Whakaari/White Island on the day it erupted. As these matters remain before the court, WorkSafe cannot provide any additional comment.

Background

On the day the White Island volcano erupted there were 47 tourist and tourist operator staff on the island – 24 Australians, nine Americans, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two Chinese, two Britons and one Malaysian. Many suffered severe burns.

By 15 December 2019 the death toll as a direct result of the eruption was 16. In January 2020, an Australian man and an American man died of their injuries and two missing people were officially declared as dead, bringing the death toll to 21. A German man died on 2 July 2020, bringing the death toll to 22.

Notes:

  • WorkSafe did not investigate the rescue and recovery of victims following the eruption. On those matters, no enforcement action has been taken.
  • Inflite Charters Limited was sentenced at the Auckland District Court on Thursday 31 March 2022.
  • A fine of $227,500 was imposed together with an order to pay prosecution costs of $40,000.
  • Inflite Charters was sentenced in respect of a charge pursuant Section 36(2) and Section 48 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA).
  • Being a PCBU having a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other persons, namely the tourists on Whakaari/White Island, is not put as risk from the work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking, namely the facilitation of tours on Whakaari, failed to comply with that
    duty and that failure exposed any individual to a risk of death or serious injury arising from volcanic activity.
  • Carries a maximum penalty of a fine not exceeding $1.5 million.
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