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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Multiple guarding and notification failures

Multiple guarding and notification failures
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New Zealand

Penalties totalling more than a quarter of a million dollars have been imposed on a company which failed to notify WorkSafe of three similar injury incidents over a space of 16 months.

In his reserved decision, Judge P Recordon makes an unusually comprehensive analysis of what are often regarded as "minor" machine guarding injuries, and also reveals how the loss of parts of fingers is anything but minor for the victims and their families.

Prepared Produce Ltd pleaded guilty to three s6 charges that it failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of three different employees; and also to three charges laid under s25(3)(a) that it failed to notify serious harm. The company was fined a total of $196,406.25 and ordered to pay reparations of $57,000 (Manukau DC, 3 March 2016).

All three incidents involved contact with rotating blades on insufficiently guarded belt slicer machines. In the first incident, in July 2013, an employee, M, clearing a blockage lost his right middle finger at the first joint and the tip of his ring finger. He returned to work after two months but left after a further three months, feeling the company blamed him for the incident. He can no longer efficiently perform everyday functions like holding and gripping and continues to suffer stump pain. He feels he has lost his fingers and his job, and his relationship has suffered. Now with a scaffolding company, he cannot use a spanner and wonders how long he will last at it.

The second incident occurred in early November 2014 when an employee, T, went to clear a blockage in the belt slicer. Part of his right ring, middle and index fingers were amputated. He can no longer grip, pull or push and cannot perform daily functions such as holding a knife or hammer or grip a car's steering wheel effectively. He feels his advancement at work is now held back, and he continues to suffer stump pain.

The company obtained a new belt slicer, but the third incident occurred on the new machine only two weeks later when an employee, S, lost the tips of two fingers while clearing a blockage. He can no longer lift heavy weights, struggles with everyday functions like opening cans and using hand tools, and can no longer type. He is now unemployed and can no longer play the sports he used to enjoy. A Sikh, he can no longer wrap his turban.

The judge noted the first two victims felt abandoned by their employer, with little or no contact post-incident, leaving them feeling isolated and struggling to recover emotionally.

Regarding the machinery, the two machines involved were fitted with guards but the guard was not long enough to prevent an operator's hand being drawn into the space occupied by the rotating cutter. The company was effectively put on notice after the first incident but failed to improve guarding or to put in place procedures on how to deal with a jam. None of the three employees was effectively trained in the safe use of the machines.

For the company, it was submitted that it was never envisaged that an operator might put his hand into the machine to clear a blockage. It attributed the first incident to its belief that M was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and that it was only after the second incident that it was realised that operators could access the dangerous parts of the machine.

However Judge Recordon found that an inadequately guarded belt slicer posed an obvious risk, that there was a significant departure from industry guarding standards, and that the failure was continuing.

"Following the first accident the employer should have been put on notice and responded appropriately. Their reaction of attempting to deny responsibility and put the blame squarely on the victim was grossly negligent and it would be appropriate for this to be reflected in the fines for the second and third accidents."

M was awarded $18,500 reparation and the company fined $36,562.50 for the s6 breach and $20,250 for the s25 failure to notify breach. T was awarded $20,000 reparation and the company fined $41,250 for the s6 breach and $27,843.75 for failure to notify. S was awarded $18,500 reparation and the company fined $35,062.50 for the s6 breach and $35,437.50 for failure to notify.

Organisations Mentioned:
Prepared Produce
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