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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters



OSH Tracker

DEPARTMENT OF LABOUR v McVICAR TIMBER GROUP LTD (DC, 06/10/93)

OSH Tracker

Defendant:
McVicar Timber Group
The first prosecution brought under the Health and Safety in Employment Act resulted in McVicar Timber Group Limited being fined $3000 plus Court costs of $95 in the Blenheim District Court on 6 October after pleading guilty to a failure to ensure an employee was not exposed to a hazard. On two further charges of failing to give information about safety equipment, and failing to ensure an employee was supervised, the firm was convicted and discharged with Court costs. In April the firm's boiler operator sustained an eye injury when splashed by a corrosive chemical used to keep the water balanced in the boiler and to prevent scale build-up. No protective equipment in the form of a face shield had been provided and no training had been given on the correct method of handling or the dangers of the chemicals involved. In ruling on the case, Judge Keane accepted that serious harm had resulted but took into account that the firm had no previous convictions and that no permanent injury resulted. He also considered it material that a safety committee had since been established. 
Industry:
Manufacturing
Sub-Industry:
Wood and Paper Product Manufacturing
Risk:
Burns/explosion
Harm:
Injury
Penalty Amount:
$3000.00
Reparation Amount:
$0.00
Appeared in Safeguard issue 22

Judgment Text

DECISION OF JUDGE P J KEANE 
Judge P J Keane
The defendant McVicar Timber Group Limited is charged with three offences against the Health and Safety Employment Act 1992 at its Kaituna Plant on 5 April 1993. The first is that it failed to ensure that one of its employees, Ms Boyes, was not exposed to hazard arising from the use of corrosive substance which was marked as such. The second is that it failed to ensure that she was equipped with necessary safety equipment and the knowledge as to how it was to be used. The third is that it failed to place her under supervision so as to avoid that kind of potential harm. 
On 5 April 1993 Ms Boyes had the responsibility of adding a corrosive alkaline solution called Gamatron to boiler water to prevent a build up of scale inside. To do that she had to open a sealed container which was marked with a warning that it contained a corrosive substance. She had to insert a tap to the container by removing a plastic bung and a plastic membrane below the bung. She used a screwdriver and a hammer, as she had in the past. She was not equipped with any safety equipment when she did this. The method which she used was one which she appears to have learned when she first commenced work. 
Solution splashed from the container into her right eye. Another worker washed out her eye immediately. She was taken to hospital and saw an eye specialist. Her vision was cloudy for some time. She appears not to have suffered permanent impairment but she did suffer a temporary loss of function. It has been defined as a serious harm for the purposes of the Act by the informant, and that is accepted by the Company. 
It is submitted for the company that the risk to which Ms Boyes was subject is one of the less significant risks faced by employees. The company is involved in the treatment and export of timber in a multi-faceted way. The technology which it uses is, to an extent, new. Many aspects of the company's activities are inherently risky. In the years since its inception in 1987, injuries have been suffered by employees but not a great many. This particular incident, it was submitted, must be seen accordingly. 
I am unable to accept this submission at face value. If the various facets of the company's operation involve inherent risks, the company must address them. It does not matter whether the risks are to be rated as high or low. If they exist employees must be protected. Quite apart from anything else, that is a statutory duty which the company has, certainly in the clearest terms since the present Act came into force. 
A second point taken is that the substance, while corrosive, is not greatly so. It has been used as soap. It is only when it comes into contact with eye tissue as opposed to other body tissue that the risk really manifests itself. 
It is difficult to reconcile this submission with the material safety data sheets supplied by the manufacturer which describes the substance as corrosive to body tissues and enjoins those using the substance to act immediately if it touches body tissues. Eyes are particularly vulnerable, and it was Ms Boyes' eyes of course in this case which were placed at risk. 
Most materially, it is submitted, since this incident or the coming into effect of the Act, which was some two or three days before, the company has set in place a safety committee and safety standards and reviewed each aspect of its operation rigorously. This is obviously commendable, and material for the purpose of sentence, it is however a pity that these steps were not taken before this incident. 
It is submitted that the three offences approach from different perspectives a single failure and that each of them can be addressed quite adequately by the entry of a penalty for the first, with discharges for the second and third. I accept that submission. The first charge alleges a general failure by the company to comply with its duty. The other two charges are aspects of that failure. 
Taking into account the company's previous good record, and the steps it has taken since the incident occurred, and the fortunate fact that the damage to Ms Boyes' eye has not proven permanent, I convict the company of the three offences; and on the first offence I fine it $3,000 and impose costs of $95.00; and on the other two offences I convict it and discharge it, subject to costs in each case of $95.00. 

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