Kinleith Mill delays maintenance shutdown after safety concerns
Oji Fibre Solutions has delayed scheduled maintenance at the Kinleith Mill because of health and safety concerns.
A rash of health and safety incidents at the Tokoroa mill has sparked six WorkSafe investigations this year, already twice that of 2016.
Oji Fibre Solutions, which bought the mill in 2014, has delayed the second annual maintenance programme, initially scheduled for September, to ensure work is completed safely.
During the last plant shutdown for maintenance in May, 11 major health and safety incidents were reported to WorkSafe - over half the 20 incidents reported throughout 2016.
Incidents investigated included a hydrochloric acid leak and a deep puncture wound to the back of a worker's leg.
The spike came a month after maintenance contracts were separated and tendered to outside contractors, but Oji said there was no link.
Oji Fibre Solutions chief executive Jon Ryder said the high May spike was a result of the onsite workforce growing from 450 to 2000 during the 10-day maintenance shutdown.
He said many of the new maintenance contractors were working for the prior contractor, Quant, and staffing numbers had dropped from four to three workers per shift.
The new arrangement was safer and ensured a more "reliable, profitable, and sustainable business", he said.
WorkSafe issued a improvement notice in June, saying the system for the control of maintenance workers was likely in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
"The current system ... does not ensure workers are fully aware of the hazards involved with the work required," the notice said.
This has since been addressed, Ryder said.
The company is working towards a April 2018 deadline to comply with the new Major Hazard Facilities Regulations.
Ryder was confident the deadline would be met.
"We are taking this very seriously, we've got 17 full time employees working on the safety case.
"Last year we spent $2m just on the safety case, this year we've got a budget of $6m, and next year we've got a headline budget of $3m dollars."
WorkSafe high hazards and safety general manager Wayne Vernon said he had received assurances from Oji management and inspectors were seeing real changes at the mill.
"I'm not pretending [the concerns] don't exist ... the system is working, it's not like we're going to the site and finding things that aren't notified, which we take a pretty dim view of," Vernon said.
E Tū union organiser Raymond Wheeler was less assured.
Wheeler contradicted Ryder, saying maintenance staffing levels have dropped 45 per cent under the new arrangement; a case of cost saving overriding health and safety concerns
"Oji changed their maintenance model and, in our view, did not assess how hazards would be managed under the new legislation.
"Their view was that they could just leave to the contractor, which you could under the old system. Oji is responsible and it cannot hide behind contractors any more."
The delayed shut showed the change in maintenance staffing has placed employees and the community at both Kinleith and Tasman mills at risk, Wheeler said.
"They weren't ready in May and clearly are not ready now, otherwise you wouldn't postpone an annual shut by six weeks."