Africa-Press – Lesotho. GNS Science, New Zealand’s Earth-science research agency, has pleaded guilty to a workplace safety charge related to how it communicated volcanic risks to contractors before the fatal Whakaari White Island eruption in 2019.
The eruption claimed the lives of 22 people and injured 25 others, mostly tourists. The workplace safety charge is unrelated to the deaths resulting from the eruption.
GNS Science, based in Lower Hutt, monitors the country’s active volcanoes and issues alert bulletins through GeoNet, a service that disseminates information to media, emergency-response agencies, and the public.
The charge against GNS Science was brought by WorkSafe New Zealand, the workplace health and safety regulator, in November 2020. The first charge, which accused GNS Science of inadequate communication of volcanic risks to the public, was dismissed in October 2022.
The second charge focused on the agency’s failure to include helicopter pilots hired for fieldwork in its risk-assessment processes and adequately communicate the volcanic risk to them.
GNS Science has now pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, admitting that it did not sufficiently consult, cooperate, and coordinate with the helicopter operators, but denying the risk of death or serious injury.
The guilty plea emphasizes the importance of research agencies sharing risk assessments with those they hire for relevant work. Prior to the 2019 eruption, GNS Science transported its staff to Whakaari White Island by helicopter for fieldwork on multiple occasions.
The penalty for the guilty plea, which could result in a fine of up to NZ$500,000 (approximately $303,663) will be determined in an August sentencing hearing. Experts in the field stress the significance of conveying accurate information about safety conditions to those who may be unfamiliar with the risks.
While professionals working with volcanoes are well aware of the hazards involved, it is crucial to ensure that this information is effectively communicated to contractors and other personnel.
Risk assessments are common practice in research institutes, covering volunteers involved in fieldwork, and university approval is typically required for their participation.