Riverlands fined after worker's finger amputated

Last updated 05:00 24/01/2014

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Riverlands Eltham has been fined $42,000 and must pay a worker $12,500 after he lost the top a finger caught in a conveyor belt.

At the time of the accident, the meat processing worker, Erick Jimmy, said his actions in putting his hands into the chain conveyor - which was temporarily stopped at the time - were stupid.

When Mr Jimmy, from Vanuatu, realised the finger was caught in the moving conveyor he ripped it out to avoid worse injuries.

In doing so, Mr Jimmy effectively amputated the top of his middle finger on his right hand.

Following a three-day defended hearing in New Plymouth in December, Judge Max Courtney found Riverlands breached the Health and Safety in Employment Act about December 7, 2011 in failing to take all practicable steps to ensure its worker's safety and in exposing Mr Jimmy to hazards.

The company was sentenced in the New Plymouth District Court yesterday.

Outside court, three company representatives who attended the sentencing declined to comment.

It is rare for companies charged under the Health and Safety Act to plead not guilty.

In sentencing, Judge Courtney said the company should have had a guard over the nip point of the conveyor, a start-up warning system and an emergency stop button to keep its workers safe in the blood collection area.

The company had installed a guard by 4pm on the afternoon of Mr Jimmy's accident which was an "easy and cheap fix", the judge said.

If there was an emergency stop button within reach, the worker might have been able to stop the machine without having to rip his finger from it, the judge said.

The injury caused serious harm because it did result in amputation, Judge Courtney said.

The company appeared to blame the worker for the accident and while Mr Jimmy called himself stupid or foolish, under the law the responsibility lay with the company to keep him safe, the judge said.

Riverlands had one previous conviction in 2001.

Industry guidelines required conveyor belts to have guards and stop buttons and be securely fenced, Judge Courtney said.

Riverlands was ordered to pay a fine of $42,000 and pay Mr Jimmy $12,500 in reparation.

The maximum fine for the offence is $250,000.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment which brought the prosecution was awarded costs of about $3000, to be decided by both parties, the judge said.

Following the sentencing Worksafe New Zealand chief investigations inspector Keith Stewart said the worker was unnecessarily injured because Riverlands Eltham had not put in safeguards earlier.

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"It was too little, too late for the worker.

"Relying on the old adage ‘it has not happened before' as a justification for not taking foreseeable safety steps is proven by this case to be bad safety and business judgment," Mr Stewart said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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