Long wait for an inquest questioned

The brother of a man killed in an irrigation trench collapse more than two years ago has expressed concern at the time it took to get to an inquest.

Coroner Jim Conradson yesterday found Roderick (Rod) Matthew O'Connor died at a property on Oamaru Creek Rd on July 11, 2006, due to asphyxia, caused by obstruction to the airways, when the sides of an irrigation trench collapsed on him.

Before delivering his preliminary decision, which will be followed up in writing, Mr Conradson asked Mr O'Connor's family if it wanted to make any comment.

Rod O'Connor's brother Nick O'Connor said the family felt yesterday was a milestone - two years, five months and seven days after the accident.

It had been a trying time for the family, which felt the process, particularly given there was a widow and three children involved, had gone on too long.

He realised there were laws and procedures upon which the country operated, but Mr O'Connor questioned the time it had taken.

While companies or people had rights to defend themselves, he would hate to think any other family would have to go through what they had been through.

He wanted to know if there was a chance for a review.

Though the inquest would finalise the legal side, the family had a lot more "long days" ahead as they sought to get over the tragedy, he said.

Mr Conradson thanked Mr O'Connor for his comments and said they would be noted as part of the inquest recording.

In July, Rooney Earthmoving Ltd was acquitted on three charges relating to Mr O'Connor's death.

In October, KB Irrigation was fined $20,000 and ordered to pay $83,000 to Mr O'Connor's widow and children after admitting a charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employee (Mr O'Connor) while at work.

The evidence of Department of Labour senior health and safety inspector Adrian Mair referred to the dangers of trenches and Mr Conradson said he did not want to make any further comment or recommendations.

In his evidence, Mr Mair said trench collapses were a known hazard with excavations.

To enter and work in a narrow trench with vertical faces of three or more metres high without shoring was considered to be extremely hazardous.

The department has investigated three other fatal incidents in New Zealand since 2004 where people at work had died in collapsed excavations.


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