Father-of-three ‘scared’ in lead-up to fatal ink plant job
DAYS before his workplace death, father-of-three Craig Tanner confided in his brother-in-law that he was scared about an upcoming job.
The industrial cleaner, from Engadine in south Sydney, had been contracted to climb inside and clean out a huge vat at an Auburn ink plant.
It was a dirty, dangerous job he had done before and, as it paid up to $2000-a-day, was too lucrative for the 42-year-old small business operator to refuse.
"Craig said to me, 'I'm scared the ink vat is going to turn on one day'," his brother-in-law Mark Riach said.
In a terrible tragedy that has ripped apart the lives of his young family, that is precisely what happened.
On the morning of December 7, 2017, at DIC Corporation's manufacturing plant, Mr Tanner was wading in ink at the bottom of the several metre-high tank when it inexplicably turned on and its mixing blade moved, crushing his pelvis and impaling his leg.
He fought for life for two hours as emergency services tried to free him from the enclosed space but succumbed to his injuries.
A year and five months after his death, his widow Rachel Tanner is still wants to know how the accident happened so she can explain it to their sons Harper, 8, Flynn, 6, and Oliver, 4.
"I'm struggling with not knowing. It's hard to have any type of closure," she said.
"I'm his wife. I should know what happened to my husband. I can't even tell my sons why their father was killed. It's difficult to explain that we have no answers."
The answers to Ms Tanner's questions are inside what The Daily Telegraph understands is a 14-volume investigation compiled by SafeWork NSW and police which is currently with the NSW Coroner.
Under workplace health and safety legislation, SafeWork is allowed two years to complete an investigation and make an enforcement decision.
The workplace watchdog currently is currently working on 32 fatality investigations with some, like Craig Tanner's file, open since 2017.
Ms Tanner's lawyer Jacob Carswell-Doherty said the investigation has taken too long.
The wait was not only distressing to his client, it also meant her financial future was unclear because they needed to know what happened before they could commence any legal action for compensation.
"The investigation has taken considerably longer than even the timeframe that SafeWork set itself," Mr Carswell-Doherty said
"While I can understand the need to ensure the integrity of the investigation, there has not been sufficient transparency.
University of Sydney Associate Professor Lynda Matthews who, with two colleagues, published a paper on the effect of work deaths on loved ones, said Ms Tanner's experience was "not uncommon".
The academics surveyed 109 people in Australia whose loved ones died at work and concluded that these incidents had a prolonged economic, social and psychological impact on families.
"It can go for two years or longer and families don't understand why it takes so long. Often it's a resourcing issue," she said
Since the accident Ms Tanner has spoken to the emergency service workers who were there on that day.
They told her they tried for two hours to free Mr Tanner and had been confident he would survive.
"Craig was conscious most of the time in the ink vat despite his substantial injuries. I believe he deteriorated quickly. He was talking to the emergency workers, I was told," she said.
As they worked to free him they didn't know that as well as having a crushed pelvis he had been impaled in the leg.
Below the ink and underneath his thick rubber waders he was bleeding to death, finally succumbing to his injuries at 10.57am.
Another worker, 29, who is believed to have been one of two men acting as spotters for Mr Tanner, was also injured by the mixing blade, which broke his leg.
Ms Tanner said if it wasn't for her three boys - and her close knit extended family - she does not know how she would have gotten through "this absolute nightmare."
"I am so, so grateful for all the support of the Engadine community, our friends and especially our family.
"His death has had a devastating impact on everyone, us, our family and all our friends.
"Craig was my best friend and soul mate. He was such an involved father that loved nothing more than his sons. He loved taking them on adventures and they worshipped him."
DIC Corporation, a $7.8 billion Japanese chemical company, is continuing to operate the manufacturing plant at Auburn.
After Mr Tanner's death, SafeWork issued several notices on the Auburn plant relating to electrical safety and systems of work.
SafeWork said they had all now been complied with.
A SafeWork NSW spokesman said, "SafeWork NSW is mindful of the impact of this tragic workplace incident. While the investigation is well advanced, SafeWork NSW continues to dedicate significant resources to this ongoing investigation."
The case will return to the NSW Coroner's Court for review on June 28.