Veolia pleads guilty two years after worker's tragic death

Veolia Environmental Services has been evacuated after a concrete kiln exploded.
Veolia Environmental Services has been evacuated after a concrete kiln exploded. Campbell Gellie

**To read the most recent news in relation to Veolia's day in court, click here**

VEOLIA Environmental Services pleaded guilty in Gladstone Magistrates Court this morning following the tragic death of employee Mark Chapelhow, 31.

Today Veolia is facing one charge of breaching Section 32 of the Workplace Health and Safety Act after a gas kiln exploded on October 27, 2015 at the South Trees site, killing Mr Chapelhow.

Executive General Manager Grant Winn entered into the guilty plea about 9.20am on behalf of Veolia.

The matter was adjourned and will resume at 11am to allow time for Magistrate Melanie Ho to review both the  prosecution's and the defence's submissions.

The court was told the fatal accident in 2015 was brought on by a gas kiln which was being used in "a very unorthodox method".

Mark Chapelhow died in a workplace incident at Veolia Environmental Services in Gladstone.
Mark Chapelhow died in a workplace incident at Veolia Environmental Services in Gladstone. Facebook

The explosion, which has resulted in approximately three years of legal battles for the family and friends of Mr Chapelhow, was caused by a hose which was pouring gas into the kiln the victim was operating.

"There should've been a better way (to light the kiln) ... which is part of the investigation," prosecutor for Workplace Health and Safety Queensland Sarah Cartledge said. 

"It was unprofessional and the conversion was not done appropriately.

"They (the workers) all had different ways they were taught to light the kiln.

Veolia, who was using the gas kiln to dry refracturing material (bricks) had never dried bricks before they entered into the tender which led to the horrific explosion, according to Ms Cartledge.

"They were contracted to make and dry bricks on site," she said.

"But the kiln (which was electric to begin with) was never intended for that purpose."

Defence lawyer Mr Anderson said the electric kiln couldn't get hot enough to dry the bricks, so it was converted into a gas kiln.

Mr Anderson told the court the company had engaged in consultants to try and get the kiln to reach the necessary temperature and thus establish the gas kiln.

"The process is simple ... but the client (Mr Winn) accepts failure," he said.

The maximum penalty for the safety practices breach is $3.5 million for a company.

Prosecutions submitted she would be seeking a penalty ranging from $200,000 - $250,000.

During proceedings, Ms Ho mentioned the victim impact statement, acknowledging it was "therapeutic ... emotional backdrop for the family" but would not have considerable weight placed on it in terms of sentencing.

"It's an opportunity for the next of kin to express their grief," Ms Cartledge agreed.

In a media release sent out this morning, Veolia said this was a "very difficult time. Our thoughts are with Mark's family and loved ones".

"Veolia remains committed to a no compromises approach towards the health and safety of our employees and
the communities where we operate," the statement read.

Mr Chapelhow left behind his partner Jessie-Lee Brown and their son Ryder.

A memorial was held in Gladstone after his death, where about 90 of his friends, family and workmates remembered the "doting father" as "smart and quick witted".

Topics:  death editor's picks gas kiln gladstonecourt magistrate melanie ho veolia workplace death workplace health and safety act 2011 workplace health and safety queensland

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