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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

From the Courts


AB Food Industries Ltd was fined $46,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $5,000 under s6 when an employee suffered moderate to severe alkaline burns to his eyes. He had knocked a pipe off a container which contained 1000 litres of anhydrous ammonia. He had tried to stem the flow by wrapping a wet cloth around the broken valve end, causing some of the chemical to get onto his face and arm which was superficially burned. The accident occurred in a storage facility where no one usually worked. The company had failed to put in place effective measures for identifying hazards or an effective procedure for dealing with emergencies involving chemicals. The employee was unaware of what to do in the event of exposure (Manukau DC, April 8 2009).

Tom Ryan Cartage Ltd was fined $35,500 and ordered to pay reparations of $51,000 after being charged under s6 of HSE Act. The cartage company was contracted to deliver a truckload of high density polyethylene pipes. The pipes were banded together but once unclipped there was nothing to prevent them rolling off the truck. During offloading a forklift bumped the pipes pushing one onto the victim who suffered a fractured leg and spine, requiring eight weeks in a wheelchair. The judge noted it was an obvious hazard that could have easily been identified. The DoL said the pipes could have been safely loaded in a number of ways. There was no safe operating procedure in place for the unloading. (Queenstown DC, May 5).

Bryan Rex Matthews was fined $15,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $3,975 under s19 after failing to safely operate a crane. A worker in a man-cage suffered fractured ribs and lacerations when the crane tipped because the left hand side riggers were not extended. In response Matthews slewed the crane so that the boom would not come down on the man-cage. The worker was thrown from the cage and found dangling from his harness. The DoL said Matthews should have carried out a visual check that outriggers on both sides of the crane were fully extended, and then ensured the crane’s computer was set to “all outriggers fully extended” (Greymouth DC, May 12).

Tyre Removals was fined $10,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $4000 under s 6 of the HSE Act after an accident where a worker’s arm was trapped in a tyre baling machine. The man had been stationed where the hydraulic ram pushed the tyre into the machine. While the machine was in use the man tried to stop a tyre from dropping into the collection area and put his arm through an open frame of the machine. The hydraulic arm returned and trapped his right forearm between the push plate of the ram. His forearm was fractured with tendon injuries. The machine had been built by the owner of the company. The DoL said a fixed guard should have been installed on the machine to prevent access to employees coming into contact with dangerous parts (Manukau DC, May 21).

Water Mart Wairarapa Ltd was fined a total of $45,000 under sections 6 and 18 of the HSE Act for failing to protect its employees, and those of a contractor crane company, from a hazard. The plumbing company had tasked an employee, a qualified builder and concrete cutter with construction experience, as a foreman for constructing its new premises. The building was to be made of a concrete slab floor, pre-cast concrete wall panels and other materials. The man was responsible for manufacturing concrete panels, however he did not install edge lifting anchors on one of the panels correctly. They were unable to support the weight of the panel during the edge lift. As a result the lift anchors in the 22 tonne panel pulled out, and the panel fell to the ground. No one was injured but there was potential for multiple fatalities. The DoL said the plumbing company failed to ensure lifting inserts were installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s requirements and to ensure that shop drawings were obtained for the panel construction. It also failed to ensure the man was familiar with the code of practice for the safe handling of pre-cast concrete, and did not have a hazard identification system (Masterton DC, July 23).

Guyco Timber Ltd was fined $50,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $12,000 after an employee’s thumb was amputated, and a finger partly amputated, by a saw blade. The Whangarei wood manufacturing company was charged under s6 of the HSE Act over the incident where an employee was cutting timber on a rise and fall trim saw. The machine operator used his right hand to set a piece of timber on the cutting table. The blade of the saw was inadvertently activated and came down on his hand. Both digits were successfully re-attached, although he will never regain full movement in them. The DoL said the company should have adequately guarded the saw and shrouded the foot pedal to minimise the likelihood of an accidental activation of the blade. (Whangarei DC, September 1)

Trevor Mark Schroder was fined $25,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $20,000 under s6 of the HSE Act following a farming accident. The dairy farmer employed a man who drove an ATV into a wire stretched across a farm race. He was knocked unconscious and suffered severe head injuries including skull fractures. The man has permanent partial disablement. The farmer owned two ATVs and kept one on-road motorcycle helmet in a shed. He could not recall whether he had told his employee to wear the helmet when driving the ATV. On the property the farm workers would tie polywire, a piece of nylon about 3mm thick, across the farm races to direct cows to various paddocks. The victim was not told a dry herd had been moved and that a polywire had been strung across the race. The DoL said the farmer had failed to ensure the man wore a helmet while operating an ATV, and did not have an effective system for ensuring hazards were identified and communicated to employees (Palmerston North DC, September 15).

Obstructing an inspector

A Mangere printing business manager was fined $25,000 for repeatedly not cooperating with a Department of Labour inspector who had identified a string of workplace health and safety problems.

David Datt pleaded guilty to an obstruction charge laid under section 30 of the HSE Act, and was fined $25,000 (Manukau DC, April 1 2009). Datt, a sales consultant and account manager for Future Print and Design Ltd, had obstructed a health and safety inspector numerous times between April and July 2008.

The inspector had first visited the company in October 2005 and identified several concerns. The business was in the process of expanding and the inspector provided advice to Datt about establishing compliant health and safety systems and practices.

When the inspector returned in early 2007 he found that few improvements had been made. He again identified a range of unsafe practices and equipment, and sent a letter to the company enclosing 15 different improvement notices.

In April 2008 he returned to inspect the premises and observed unsafe practices. For instance an employee was working with a container of film developing liquid without protective clothing or eye-wear. There were a number of damaged, untagged or unsecured electrical leads and some exposed internal wiring.

A 2.2m steel racking unit was unstable and not attached to the wall, and the upstairs staff meal area was also being used as a photo studio working area. There was no noise control monitoring, no accident registers or methods to identify workplace hazards.

Datt repeatedly said he would engage in the investigation but didn’t, and failed to respond to requests for meetings. He finally cooperated only after the obstruction charge was laid.

Overlooked workers

The importance of having office staff fully briefed on construction site safety has been highlighted in a case where an accounts manager was crushed between a digger and container.

Brooklyn Rise Ltd was fined $85,000 under s6 of the Health and Safety Employment Act following the accident, which left the victim badly injured (Wellington DC, February 5 2009).

The company was engaged in a residential development in Wellington. The victim, a senior accounts manager, worked in an office at the rear of the construction site. He had seen a digger near the office but thought it was not in operation, and needed to get past it. The man thought it would be easier to carry the files to one side of the digger, than try to pass a large amount of dirt lying on the other side.

There was no designated pathway through the site or fencing or barriers around the digger. As he was passing the digger suddenly tilted and he was caught between it and the container, suffering five fractured ribs, with damage to his lungs and bruising to his liver.

The manager had no health and safety induction specific to the site but had been told to be careful around large equipment. While he had been given a high visibility jacket and safety helmet, he had not been told to wear either when walking around the site.

A DoL inspector had visited the site a month before the accident and mentioned to the project manager there were people working around the digger without high visibility vests or helmets. The company remedied that but did not tell the office staff to wear such gear around machinery.

The DoL found the company had failed to take steps like using barriers, spotters or providing designated safe pathways for pedestrian traffic. The company did not ensure all people on site wore high visibility garments, and did not carry out site-specific inductions to alert employees to health hazards.

In his sentencing notes Judge John Walker said the company had been “very lax indeed” in respect of safety of its employees. Judge Walker said the hazard ought to have been obvious, particularly where office staff were required to walk through the site. Given such staff were not involved in the physical work it should have been expected that they would be unfamiliar with the hazards of machinery.

It would have been a simple matter to have instructed staff of the dangers, and the company’s culpability was increased by the fact it had been warned of safety concerns in an earlier visit of the inspector. Judge Walker said the potential for harm had been high and the actual harm was substantial. He did not make an order for reparation as the victim had said he suffered no emotional harm.

Fatal combination

Excessive speed and the lack of a proper look-out added to the seriousness of a maritime accident where the skipper was distracted by his use of a cellphone, a judge has found.

New Zealand King Salmon was fined $60,000 under s6 of the HSE Act and ordered to pay reparations of $200,000 following a collision near Picton which killed two men and injured another four. The company was also fined $6000 under s68 of the Maritime Transport Act for lapsed certifications (Blenheim DC, July 15).

Maritime NZ had said that the skipper of the company’s six-metre vessel, Shikari, appeared to have been texting prior to the accident. He did not notice a 91 tonne former navy inshore patrol boat moored in the bay until it was too late, and was seen twisting the steering wheel just a moment before impact. Two company employees, including the skipper, died in the collision, while four salmon farm workers on board suffered injuries

Since the accident in June last year, NZ King Salmon had paid out $20,000 each to the families of the deceased and to the four injured passengers, along with thousands more towards funeral and other expenses. The company had also written letters of apology to those victims.

In sentencing, Judge Chris Tuohy said the company’s actions had made a difference to the healing, demonstrated in part by the fact that those injured had returned to the company.

Judge Tuohy said there was a fairly high degree of culpability in the collision. Navigating a vessel within harbour limits presented an obvious risk of collision with other vessels, and the means of avoiding that were to maintain a proper look out and remain within speed limits. There was not a proper look-out maintained and the vessel was travelling at 23 knots in a five knot area.

It had been submitted that nothing could have been done beforehand to avoid such potential for human failure but Judge Tuohy said that was not entirely true. Adherence to the speed limit would have lessened the consequences of the collision. While the company suggested there was some “normalisation” around exceeding speed limits in the area, the judge said that should have led to heightened surveillance and awareness.

Thomson Reuters

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