Sawmill firm fined $52,500 for injury

SALLY KIDSON
Last updated 05:00 07/12/2012

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Tahunanui-based Waimea Sawmillers was fined $52,500 following an accident in which a contractor suffered multiple serious injuries.

The contractor suffered a traumatic brain injury and fractures to his skull, face and wrist, among other injuries, in February when he fell about four metres from machinery onto a concrete floor.

The company was also ordered in the Nelson District Court yesterday to pay reparations of $20,000 to the contractor.

Waimea Sawmillers was charged under the Health and Safety Act of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of an employee.

In July a worker at the sawmill, Corey Amohanga, died after he was hit by falling timber.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Building Innovation and Employment said the investigation into that incident was continuing.

The summary of facts for the February incident said the employee worked for Allied Workforce and had been contracted to Waimea Sawmillers on a permanent basis for three years.

He was working on the nightshift on February 20.

Waimea Sawmillers had recently put in a new timber trim line as it had trouble with the old one blocking which affected production and safety.

February 20 was the eighth night of the plant set up in its new configuration.

Two separate blockages of the unscrambler - which converts the arrival of timber boards at the trim line to a steady flow - happened on February 20.

The machine was unable to be started when a third blockage occurred. To reduce the load on the motor it was decided to remove the timber from the unscrambler trough.

Two workers climbed onto the unscrambler and started lifting pieces of timber out of it manually. The injured worker also climbed up onto the 4.1m feed deck to create room to clear timber. The feed deck has a guard rail on one side and is unguarded on the other.

The worker fell from the feed deck, possibly after stepping on timber overhanging the feed deck and the work deck, and fell 4.1m from the unguarded side of the feed deck to the concrete floor below.

An investigation by the ministry's health and safety staff found the machinery did not have full edge protection.

However some of the hazards of the unscrambler were identified before the reconfiguration as the feed deck was raised to distance workers from moving parts of the machine.

The company's directors, Scott and Kent Gibbons, were in court on Wednesday.

The company's lawyer, Brian Nathan, said it was simplistic to say a guard rail should have been in place where the worker fell as 80 per cent of timber overhung the line on that side.

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He said the accident occurred as a result of a motor burning out, and could be described as a freak occurrence.

The new $3 million equipment installed at the factory had significantly reduced the health and safety incidents.

The company accepted responsibility for the accident and was professionally managed with a very good health and safety record, Nathan said.

In 61 years of operation it was the first time it had been in court. The company had a strong culture of health and safety and were genuinely remorseful.

Judge Tony Zohrab said the worker still suffered painful migraines and had to rest three hours a day as a result of the head injuries he suffered.

He returned to work last month for three hours a day. The accident had a significant impact and placed significant stress on his family.

Judge Zohrab said the company had not anticipated a worker would have to access the line at the spot where the accident happened, and the blockage was caused by a rare occurrence.

However, he said with the benefit of hindsight it seemed reasonably foreseeable that there could be a build-up of timber at the site and workers might climb up to it.

Judge Zohrab said it was a risk that should have been identified.

The company had since taken steps to reduce the risk of a similar accident recurring.

- Nelson

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