One of Taranaki's biggest employers, Tegel Foods Ltd, has been fined nearly $50,000 after a worker's hand was trapped in an unguarded conveyor belt.
The chicken processor was also ordered to pay the worker $4125 in emotional harm and reparation payments. Tegel was sentenced in the New Plymouth District Court yesterday after pleading guilty to breaching the Health and Safety in Employment Act in failing to take all practicable steps to protect an employee, Gary James Archibald, from the freeflow belt conveyor at his Bell Block workplace on October 16 last year.
A Tegel lawyer told Judge Tony Couch the company took health and safety seriously. The judge remarked it was the company's statutory obligation to do so.
The conveyor was installed in 1993 and upgraded in May last year. But this led to problems, with the product accumulating.
The workers would put their hands on the conveyor to clear the buildup. When Archibald started at 4.30am, he saw a buildup on the underside of the belt, put his left hand in to clear it and was caught in the machine.
A workmate stopped the conveyor and the belt was cut to release the hand.
Archibald suffered abrasions to two fingers and a wound that required stitching.
The judge said Tegel was aware there were unguarded parts on the machine. An audit on January 2012 evaluated the risk but no guard was installed.
Archibald had no training in the procedure taught in other areas to turn off the machinery prior to touching the conveyor.
In all, eight safety steps were not taken.
Archibald suffered acute pain when his hand was caught, and ongoing pain and discomfort during the healing process.
He suffered inconvenience due to the limited use of his left hand but there was no permanent injury. Tegel offered $125 for the worker's costs, $4000 for reparation and $500 for counselling.
The judge said parts of the belt conveyor, which was hazardous, should have been guarded.
The company knew the danger perfectly well.
"It was an accident waiting to happen," the judge said.
It was good fortune an accident had not already occurred at the Bell Block plant or at the Christchurch plant, where a similar machine was operating.
"The hazard was there for all to see and actually known by Tegel."
It could have been avoided simply and at little cost by installing guards.
Tegel was fined $48,750.
The judge noted Tegel had been prosecuted previously for breaching the act.
- Taranaki Daily News