Workers constructing the US$37 billion (AU$48.65 billion) Ichtys LNG project in Darwin may have returned to the site following its closure after a fatality last week but there are questions about the facility's start-up date, considering access to some parts of the site are still inaccessible.

June 2016, Bladin Point near Darwin: construction of Ichthys LNG Project onshore facilities. Credit: Inpex Australia.

On Wednesday, November 29, 56-year-old Carl Delany, a subcontractor for civil and construction company Whittens, died while working in a confined space installing insulation within a tank. According to reports, Delany was killed when he fell into the insulation dust and disappeared below the surface. Despite being treated by the Inpex medical team on-site, Delany had died by the time St John Ambulance arrived.

Whittens is subcontracted to Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which is a subcontractor of JKC Australia LNG, the project's lead construction operator.

Following the incident, NT WorkSafe issued a prohibition notice stopping all insulation work within tanks at the Bladin Point construction site.

Majority owner of the project, Japan's Inpex Corp, said workers returned to the site on Friday but noted that not all areas were accessible.  

"Work has progressively resumed across most of the site, with cryogenic tanks insulation work temporarily suspended in accordance with a notice issued by NT WorkSafe," an Inpex spokeswoman told the Financial Review.

"We are co-operating fully with the relevant authorities and work on the tanks will only recommence following removal of the notice."

The original production date was late 2016 but this had been pushed back to March 2018. The cost of the project has also increased from US$34 billion. And now, there are questions around the already delayed start date.   

Wood Mackenzie analyst Saul Kavonic told the Financial Review a March start date is "very optimistic.

"We expect first cargo is more likely to arrive closer to mid-2018," he said, adding that "LNG plant commissioning is one of the most technically challenging parts of LNG project commissioning."

Safety not up to scratch

It has also been revealed that Whittens had failed to provide a safe working environment for Delany.

NT News revealed that it had obtained documents containing allegations that the civil contractor had failed in its primary duty of care to the deceased worker.

The documents, according to the newspaper, were filed less than eight hours after the incident by NT Worksafe inspector Rebecca Trimble, who said "I have a reasonable belief that (Whittens) has contravened (the Work Health and Safety Act), due to its failure to have procedures in place to deal with the installation of perlite insulation in the tanks which is in a confined space.

"The failure of a system has exposed and continues to expose workers who conduct this work to serious and imminent risk."

She also noted that Whittens had failed with "the provision and maintenance of safe systems of work."