So we’re talking Whakaari White Island again.
That’s not surprising as the one year anniversary arrives on December 9. But it is surprising we’re also talking about Worksafe prosecutions
Last week, Worksafe announced that it would be taking 13 parties to court, including 10 organisations and three individuals. Those charges and what they were charged with remains confidential allowing the parties to apply for suppression when the charges are presented to the Court.
However a number of organisations including GNS have been prepared to admit they’ve been charged.
The release of the intention to prosecute so close to the anniversary I thought was not very worksafe by Worksafe. Employees already wearing the emotional baggage of shock and guilt were suddenly named and by inference shamed.
I know I was already reflecting on the day. I was on air at the time and I clearly remember discovering a timelapse CCTV shot of the crater featuring a party walking towards the crater. A moment later the time lapse showed a smoking hell. That affected me profoundly.
A little bit of sensitivity might have been in order with the prosecutions announced at a more sympathetic time.
After all, those charged already know what they did or didn’t do and what they could or should do better. These prosecutions are to find a criminal negligence as opposed to an accidental negligence. We need to know all that went wrong. Including Worksafe's involvement in the island's management.
We would be better served by a proper commission of inquiry that would provide a more objective basis for learnings.
I was thinking of those learnings today reading about a couple who survived. The husband wearing shorts and T shirt burnt on 50% of his body. His wife with long sleeves and leggings burnt on 25% of her body. A simple warning to wear long coverings may have saved lives. Issuing flameproof overalls would have increased the survival rate dramatically.
The anniversary has also seen stories of extraordinary bravery in our media but also graphic accounts of the viciousness of the volcano.
This weekend’s article on the doctors at the Burns Unit in Middlemore and what they dealt with and how, was particularly gruesome. The unit was already suffering with overwork and when over 20 victims with horrific injuries both from steam and hydrochloric acid arrive the workload became immense.
It reminds us how reliant we are on specialised medical professionals. A recent conference of the salaried medical professionsals pointed out that we are heading towards a crisis in slow motion.
Specialists are special people. Their training takes dozens of years. Surgeons need an extraordinary physiology. A recent report found that the average age of specialists in this country is 57 and rising. We need a new wave of these amazing individuals and we can’t leave it to luck that they’ll suddenly appear.