Sealord cops $63k worker safety fine

Last updated 10:32 08/11/2012

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Nelson-based fishing company Sealord has been fined $63,400 and ordered to pay reparations of $12,500 after a fisherman fell through a hatch, rupturing his spleen.

On October 2 last year, factory hand James Billingham was helping prepare Sealord vessel Ocean Dawn to sail from Nelson. While trying to remove bungs under the hatch cover, he overbalanced and fell five metres into the ship's hold.

He was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with a sprained thumb. Later that day he suffered severe abdominal pain and returned to hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to remove his spleen.

In September Sealord pleaded guilty to one Health and Safety in Employment Act charge of failing to ensure the safety of an employee. Nelson District Court Judge Tony Zohrab said Sealord had failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees on board.

Maritime New Zealand director Keith Manch said the sentence sent a clear message to operators that health and safety was to be taken seriously.

“Had a proper hatch guarding been in place, it's clear Mr Billingham wouldn't have fallen in this case.

"Just identifying the hazard, and minimising it by informing employees – as Sealord had – isn't enough. The legislation clearly states steps must first be taken to eliminate or isolate the hazard, before minimisation can be considered," he said.

“Maritime New Zealand is committed to improving the safety of the fishing industry by whatever means necessary. Prosecution is generally used as a last resort, but in situations like this, it is the most appropriate course of action, and I welcome the sentence.”

The maximum penalty for this offence under the Act is a fine of $250,000.

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