Sealord cops big fine and compo order from judge

MICHELLE SUTTON
Last updated 13:00 08/11/2012

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Sealord Group has been fined $63,400 and ordered to pay $12,500 reparation after a worker ruptured his spleen while working on one of its boats in Nelson.

In sentencing at Nelson District Court yesterday, Judge Tony Zohrab made the reparation order payable within 14 days to compensate Nelson-based worker James Billingham, who was forced to have his spleen removed after falling five metres down a hatch.

The fall also broke his ribs and he faced a life taking medication and was at greater risk of infections without his spleen.

He understood Mr Billingham, a British expatriate who lived in Nelson, had returned to work fulltime with Sealord but was currently on holiday overseas.

However, he said, a victim impact statement showed the injury had impacted on his life significantly, particularly with the medication he was required to take, and the greater risk of infection he faced while travelling or enjoying his active lifestyle.

Judge Zohrab issued the separate fine after Sealord pleaded guilty to a charge laid by Maritime NZ for failing to ensure the safety of employees working on one of its boats.

The Ocean Dawn was at Port Nelson on October 2 last year when Mr Billingham had his accident.

He fell five metres into a hull while removing bungs - wood-covered foam to insulate the fish hold - from the vessel's hatch that did not have guard rails.

Maritime NZ lawyer Dale La Hood said it was against normal practice to be removing bungs by hand, but no measures had been taken to protect against a staff member with a "can-do" attitude, who would complete it by hand if needed.

In this case Mr Billingham was assisting another staff member who was doing just that, which then led him to fall and be injured. Judge Zohrab said it was only pure luck that the accident avoided a fatality, possibly only because Mr Billingham landed on top of a pallet of cardboard.

"And the hazard could have been resolved by simple means," he said.

Guide rails for the hatch were on board, showing Sealord had identified it was a hazard, but they were not used.

"When you have an obvious hazard that presented serious risk, just the identification of the hazard is not going far enough in what needed to be done."

However, he did not believe Sealord had a cavalier attitude toward safety and accepted it was an industry leader in most health and safety practices.

Sealord lawyer Alistair Darroch said operating practices had been refined to improve safety when staff worked around hatches as a result of the accident - safety was at the top of the company's five values.

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Judge Zohrab took into account Sealord's five previous convictions between 2000 and 2008 for failing to ensure the safety of employees, but said there was some time until this latest accident had occurred.

Outside court, Sealord Fishing general manager Doug Paulin said there was a culture of safety embedded throughout the company and all its staff.

The company would continue to fully support Mr Billingham's medical costs and it had already assisted with his care and expenses due to the accident.

"We are now concentrating on making sure that people are making decisions not to put themselves in harm's way. It's a behaviour thing," Mr Paulin said.

Sealord had refined a number of areas around the circumstances of this particular case, including an approved operating method for opening bungs.

"Sealord thinks safety is incredibly important. We think we are in an industry where there are a number of risks involved. We are very disappointed that this has occurred."

- Nelson

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