Australian court convicts Esso for Longford gas plant explosion

Esso Australia Ltd. has been found guilty in the Victorian Supreme Court on 11 workplace safety charges stemming from an explosion and fire at the Longford gas plant nearly 3 years ago. The company, which pleaded innocent to all charges, has yet to be sentenced and faces fines of up to $2.75 million (Aus.).


By an OGJ Online Correspondent

MELBOURNE, June 29 -- Esso Australia Ltd. has been found guilty in the Victorian Supreme Court on 11 workplace safety charges stemming from an explosion and fire at the Longford gas plant nearly 3 years ago.

The accident killed two persons, injured eight, and cut gas supplies to more than 1 million Victorian consumers for a fortnight.

The company, which pleaded innocent to all charges, has yet to be sentenced and faces fines of up to $2.75 million (Aus.).

The charges, brought under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, alleged failures to identify hazards, assess risks, provide a safe environment, and provide correct worker and supervisor training to deal with risks and emergencies. No individuals were charged.

The trial lasted 3 1/2 months and the jury took 2 days to consider its verdict.

The Victorian Workcover Authority said the verdict justified the longest and most expensive case it had undertaken.

Esso Australia's chairman, Robert Olsen, said the company regrets the accident, the loss of life, and the injuries. He did not say if the company planned an appeal.

Olsen said before and since the 1998 accident Esso's safety record was of the highest quality.

Meanwhile, lawyers in a $1.4 billion class action suit against Esso said the guilty verdict strengthened their case. The four law firms representing insurers and 20,000 businesses said many of the negligence issues they have alleged against Esso were the same as those tried by the jury.

Unions said the current maximum fines of $250,000/charge are inadequate.

The Victorian state government plans to introduce a bill to create a crime of industrial manslaughter during the September session of parliament. Violations would carry a fine of up to $5 million or up to 2 years in jail.

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