WorkCover NSW has launched criminal proceedings against Drayton’s Family Wines at Pokolbin, north-west of Newcastle, over the fatal 2008 explosion that killed prominent winemaker Trevor Drayton and boilermaker Eddie Orgo.
More than 18 months after a coroner found poor safety measures at the family-owned winery were a major cause of the blast, WorkCover has confirmed it has lodged an indictment in the district court against W Drayton and Sons Pty Ltd, trading as Drayton Family Wines.
It follows the completion last month of WorkCover’s investigation into the incident and the coroner’s findings, and presents another painful blow to the Drayton family.
Directors of the company at the time of the blast were Trevor’s father Max and his brothers Greg and John. WorkCover’s move means the trio is accused of causing the negligent manslaughter of their son and brother, as well as Mr Orgo.
For legal reasons, WorkCover was unable to detail the charges yesterday but the Herald can confirm they relate to the alleged failure to ensure the safety of workers at the family’s Oakey Creek Road vineyard.
In this case, such a breach equates to two charges of negligent manslaughter, leaving the company open to fines of up to $1.65million.
Individuals face fines of up to $165,000, or five years in jail.
The explosion occurred on January 17 in 2008 when Mr Orgo began welding a steel tank which he was unaware contained 9000litres of SVR, a spirit similar to ethanol.
In July 2011, Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon found the subsequent blast killed Mr Orgo, 59, and Mr Drayton, 52, instantly. Assistant winemaker William Rikard-Bell, 27 at the time, was walking near the tank with Mr Drayton before the blast.
He suffered extensive burns, requiring months of treatment.
The explosion blew the roof off the tank along with much of the production area’s roof.
Mr Rikard-Bell ran to a nearby dam to extinguish the flames that engulfed his body.
Witnesses told the coronial inquest that two smaller explosions followed the first blast and that they saw liquid running through drains which had caught alight.
At the time, John and Greg Drayton were working in other parts of the vineyard.
Following the inquest, John Drayton said his family appreciated the understanding shown by the coroner, and expressed his sympathies to the family of Mr Orgo and to Mr Rikard-Bell.
‘‘Our family hopes that positive changes can come about as a result of the coroner’s findings so that Trevor and Eddie’s tragic deaths and Will’s injuries were not in vain,’’ he said at the time.
The matter is listed for mention in the district court later this month.