$351K fine after kaimahi hand sliced off

By Contributor

WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT

By Ellen Thompson, Open Justice Multimedia Journalist, Tāmaki Makaurau

A man who had his hand sliced off while at work says he remembers looking down to see a puddle of blood and his hand lying metres away from him on the ground.

The workplace accident happened in February 2019 when the man was working at Southern Pallet Recycling in Christchurch.

The Company, which specialises in making pallets and bins, has now been fined just over $350,000 for failing to secure the safety of its worker after an investigation revealed the saw he was using did not meet safety requirements when purchased and attempts to fix it weren't carried out by a qualified person.

On the morning of the incident the worker, who has not been named, was using a Tek Cut-off saw. He was the primary operator of the saw and had used the machinery many times before.

As the worker used the "rise and fall" saw, he began clearing debris from around it. At the same time, he pivoted on his left foot and activated a foot pedal that brought the saw up.

The machine cut off his right hand at the wrist.

The worker described in a victim impact statement how he felt when he realised his hand was no longer attached to his body and instead lying several metres away.

"My arm was bleeding and I could see the bone."

"I remember clamping my arm in an attempt to preserve it, I also remember seeing a big pool of blood collected at my feet.

"My hand was re-attached the next day after a lengthy surgery and I was released from the hospital two weeks later."

He also described the feeling of frustration when he realised he will be disabled for the rest of his life.

The company was charged by WorkSafe following an investigation into the accident but challenged that in court.

It argued the charge should be dismissed because a WorkSafe inspector had visited the factory on November 21, 2017, to look at the saw. The inspector didn't raise any concerns following the visit, instead noting in an email: "Machinery in place are guarded well which was my primary focus for the visit...."

The company claimed that WorkSafe's prosecution was an abuse of process because WorkSafe had induced the error - but that was dismissed by a District Court judge. After an unsuccessful appeal in the High Court, the company pleaded guilty.

In a recently released decision Christchurch District Court Judge Michael Crosbie noted that when the saw was purchased in 2014, it lacked the appropriate guarding.

"This was communicated to the defendant, by the supplier who advised that the machine did not comply with Occupational Safety and Health requirements (OSH) requirements and should not be used."

Judge Crosbie said that the company engaged with Nimrod engineering Limited to modify the saw, but did not seek or obtain assistance from an appropriately qualified person or organisation.

"There was no guidance as to whether the modification met industry standards."

The WorkSafe investigation also found that the guarding and safety feature of the saw did not comply with their standards.

"The company was expressly warned at the outset that the saw did not comply with Occupational safety and health requirements because of its original lack of guarding," Crosbie said.

Southern Pallet Recycling was ordered to pay $10,000 in consequential loss, $50,000 in emotional harm reparation, a fine of $283,500 and $7,500 in costs.

The fine was ordered to be paid over a period of five years and is paid to the Ministry Of Justice.

The company didn't want to comment.