Drayton's winery blast trial starts

DRAYTON’S Family Wines, a smaller Drayton family company and a Hunter Valley engineering company all failed in their duties to protect their workers before a fatal winery blast at Pokolbin, a court has heard.

Criminal proceedings brought by WorkCover NSWagainst Drayton’s, the Drayton-owned Goldtrac Pty Ltd and Perfab Engineering Pty Ltd began in the Sydney District Court yesterday, with charge sheets alleging the three systematically failed to protect their workers during welding operations at the Drayton winery in 2008.

On January 17, 2008, winemaker Trevor Drayton and boilermaker Eddie Orgo were killed when Mr Orgo began welding a stainless steel tank at the vineyard. The subsequent blast also severely injured young winemaker William Rikard-Bell.

Trevor Drayton’s father Max and his brothers John and Greg are directors of two companies charged by WorkCover. The third, Perfab Engineering, was the employer of Mr Orgo.

None of the Drayton family were present in court yesterday to hear the formal charges read, but representatives were successful in having the matter adjourned for two months.

WorkCover alleges that Drayton’s Family Wines ‘‘failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all its employees, in particular William Rikard-Bell, Colin Locock, Brent Thompson and Justin Booker’’, who were also working at the time.

It is also alleged that Drayton’s failed to provide for the safe storage of the highly-explosive ethanol, failed to take risk assessments, failed to inform contractors, failed to provide appropriate supervision of the contractor, had no hot work permit and failed to give Mr Rikard-Bell and other workers appropriate training.

WorkCover alleges that Goldtrac failed to meet the same responsibilities and exposed workers, including Mr Orgo, to the risk of explosion. Perfab has been charged with similar offences relating to its failure to ensure the welfare of its employees.

In 2011, Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon found that poor safety measures at the popular Oakey Creek Road vineyard had contributed to the explosion which killed Mr Drayton, 52, and Mr Orgo, 59.

Mr Rikard-Bell told the inquest that he ran into a nearby dam to extinguish the flames that had engulfed his body, while other witnesses reported seeing the ethanol well alight and running into drains.

The stainless steel tank contained 9000litres of an ethanol known as SVR when Mr Orgo began welding.

If found guilty, all three companies will face fines of up to $1.65million. The directors of those companies face fines up to $165,000 and five-year jail terms.

The hearing, before Judge Curtis, will resume in April.

The scene at Drayton's winery after the fatal blast in 2008.

The scene at Drayton's winery after the fatal blast in 2008.