Worker whose arm partially amputated 'fatigued'

NICCI MCDOUGALL
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2013
Kelly John Shields
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

LIGHT DUTIES: Kelly John Shields had his arm partially amputated on a bandsaw while working at South Pacific Meats last year.

Kelly John Shields' Xray
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
PARTIAL AMPUTATION: The injury to Kelly Shields' arm has required three surgeries. He cannot fully straighten his arm.
Kelly John Shields' arm
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
STILL PAINFUL: The injury means Kelly Shields still requires strong pain relievers a year later.

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An Invercargill man whose arm was partially amputated while he worked at Southland meatworks plant South Pacific Meats says he is frustrated a charge against the company has been dropped.

The company had been charged, under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, with failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that Kelly Shields was not exposed to hazards arising from the operation of a Reich 600 shoulder bandsaw.

The company pleaded not guilty and the case was due before the court on February 20.

But Mr Shields said he was last week told by the Department of Labour that the charge was being dropped because evidential inconsistencies had become apparent.

He accepted that on the night of the accident he had crossed his arms while cutting the meat, however it had been implied that he had crossed his arms every time he used the machine, which was incorrect, he said.

Mr Shields, who had been using the saw to cut mutton, said he was overworked and mentally and physically fatigued at the time of the incident.

He believed he should have been rotated on to other jobs but was kept on the saw for three days. Staff numbers were down and he had asked another saw operator if they could rotate every 15 minutes but was told no, he said.

Mr Shields had cut his thumb on the saw a few months before the accident and said he should have been retrained, under company protocol, but was not.

His injury was called a partial amputation and he had since had three operations including a bone graft from his hip which was now painful.

He was still on heavy narcotics a year after the accident and could not fully straighten his arm, he said.

He was still working for the company but on reduced hours and lighter duties. The loss of wages had "crippled" him and he had lost between $17,000 and $20,000 a year.

"I am going to suffer for the rest of my life. I never asked for this to happen to me. I'm the victim."

Mr Shields said the incident could have been avoided if the company had adhered to its protocols and his concerns of fatigue.

South Pacific Meats had paid for taxis and a psychologist. They had also paid for petrol expenses and offered counselling to his family.

South Pacific Meats manager Kevin Hamilton, when confronted with Mr Shields' allegations yesterday, would only say that the Department of Labour informed him last week that the charge was being withdrawn.

But in regards to the earlier incident when Mr Shields cut his thumb on the saw, Mr Hamilton said Mr Shields had received a written warning after using the saw in an unacceptable way.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Southern region health and safety general manager Francois Barton said information provided to the ministry during its investigation supported the decision to prosecute South Pacific Meats over the incident.

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"There is no doubt from the ministry's perspective that the incident should not have happened."

During preparation for the next stage of the prosecution process, which involved discussions with the injured worker, crucial evidential inconsistencies became apparent which went to the heart of the ministry's case against the company, he said.

The ministry had "no option" but to seek a withdrawal of the charge.

No further serious incidents involving bandsaws at South Pacific Meats had been reported to the ministry since Mr Shields' accident, he said.

South Pacific Meats was in the spotlight in 2010 when the Labour Department revealed there had been 17 serious-harm injuries at South Pacific Meats in less than two years, including a spate of finger amputations and cuts on bandsaws.

Mr Barton said yesterday it was continuing to work with the company and the meat workers union with regards to preventing harm at the Invercargill plant.

The ministry would not hesitate to take enforcement steps where the evidence supported such action, he said.

nicci.mcdougall@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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