A Bay of Plenty company has been sentenced for its role in sending a dense cloud of lime dust across a motorway, causing a multi-vehicle crash which killed a driver.
Wealleans Bay of Plenty Limited was spreading the lime at a dairy farm next to the Tauranga Eastern Link Road on 5 February 2020, when the cloud drifted across the motorway on the wind – reducing visibility to almost nothing.
Susan Walmsley’s vehicle was engulfed and collided with a car in front, and was then struck from behind. The 64-year-old never regained consciousness and died days later in hospital.
“Mrs Walmsley was a treasured wife and mother, as well as a beloved teacher, and our thoughts are with all those who continue to mourn her loss. This was a preventable tragedy, and more should have been done to account for the risk to road users,” says WorkSafe’s area investigation manager, Paul West.
In June this year, Judge Paul Mabey QC found Wealleans guilty of health and safety failings, and the company was sentenced today at Tauranga District Court.
In his decision, Judge Mabey noted the fertiliser truck driver “had no control over what the wind was doing to the product, but that is the point”. The judgment went on to say the driver “was spreading in circumstances where the wind caused third party risk, was unaware of what was occurring before she stopped and when, finally, a decision to stop was made it was too late”.
A WorkSafe investigation found Wealleans failed to undertake an appropriate risk assessment and did not implement a safe system of work for spreading fertiliser on the farm – exposing other people to serious injury and death.
“It’s only by luck that there were no further fatalities on the motorway that day. Although the circumstances are uniquely sad, this incident could have happened anywhere in the country so the agriculture sector more widely should take notice,” says Paul West.
“All industry guidance makes clear that there is a risk of wind drift. Agricultural lime is a dusty product that can cause a reduction in visibility, depending on how it is handled or local weather conditions. This risk should be assessed before use, including the impact on operators, farmers, nearby moving vehicles, and the public.”
- Wealleans Bay of Plenty Limited was sentenced at Tauranga District Court on 7 September 2022.
- A fine of $360,000 was imposed, along with emotional harm reparations of $210,000 and consequential loss reparations of $88,649
- Wealleans was charged under sections 36(2) and 48(1) and (2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
- Being a PCBU having a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of other persons is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking, namely the spreading of ground lime fertiliser.
- The maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding $1.5 million.