Worker's injury costs wine firm $30,000 fine

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 04/03/2014

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A badly broken arm could have been avoided if a billionaire's wine company had properly checked safety procedures at a Martinborough vineyard before taking it over, a judge says.

Foley Family Wines Ltd, majority-owned by American billionaire Bill Foley, was sentenced yesterday in the Masterton District Court for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of Te Kairanga vineyard worker Chris Kokiri.

The company pleaded guilty to not adequately protecting Mr Kokiri from a serious injury suffered when he was winding bird netting off vines on to a mechanical spindle.

He was removing the free end of the netting and feeding it into the machine on April 23 last year when a velcro tag on his jacket was caught and pulled his left arm into the spindle, the court was told.

He suffered a "nasty injury", including two broken bones and damaged tendons, and needed skin grafts, Judge Thomas Broadmore said.

The lawyer representing the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Angela Graham, said the company should have done more to protect workers because eight pages of safety instructions in the machine's operating manual made it "pretty obvious" it could be hazardous to workers if proper safety procedures were not enforced.

For the company, lawyer Christie Hall said that Foley Family Wines had taken reasonable steps to "isolate" employees from risks involved with the netting work.

Judge Broadmore said the company's fault was in not completing a full-scale review of Te Kairanga's health and safety procedures when it took it over, or before. It was a serious incident, and companies should look at worker safety with the same rigor applied to economic factors when doing due diligence before a takeover.

He fined the company $30,000 and ordered it to pay Mr Kokiri compensation of $12,000.

Foley Family Wines chief executive Mark Turnbull said the company acknowledged the judge's comments that a preliminary health and safety assessment would be a positive step.

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