The judge set the starting point for the fine at $400,000 - $600,000, however the final amount was reduced by mitigating factors and the defendant's inability to pay a fine exceeding $100,000.
On April 6th 2015, a worker at Budget Plastics was operating an extrusion machine. At one end of the machine was a hopper, into which the operator poured plastic scraps which were then pushed by an auger along a heated tunnel for extrusion.
The worker was standing on a pellet and feeding plastics into the hopper by hand as usual. As he was tipping the last few scraps from a large plastic bag into the hopper, part of the bag became caught in the auger which pulled the bag and the worker's hand into the machine.
A nearby colleague witnessed the incident and pushed the emergency stop button. Unfortunately, by the time the machine was stooped the victim had already suffered a significant amputation. He was air lifted to Lower Hutt hospital and underwent surgery. The injured worker, whose name is suppressed, is left with only a thumb and part of his forefinger as a result.
The WorkSafe investigation found that Budget Plastics failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers, and identified a number of failings by the employer.
Failings included that:
Other findings of note included that:
Each of these points is more than a failure - every one is a missed opportunities to not only prevent harm, but also to improve work for the workers, and business outcomes for the owner.
It is important to note that:
As anticipated, this sentence indicates that we are likely to see a significant increase in the fine amounts under HSWA, over those handed down under the HSE Act 1992.
The sentence also highlights the importance of the company's ability to pay as a factor in determining the final fine amount. Legal experts predict that PCBU's are likely to take a similar approach, using accounting evidence to demonstrate an inability to pay a significant fine in order to have the final sentence reduced to as low as possible.
This case serves as a reminder of the critical importance of identifying workplace hazards and putting controls in place to protect workers from harm. Simple and effective risk management practices can prevent people being harmed or killed at work, and can avoid expensive, stressful and damaging prosecutions like this one.
If your business needs to create health and safety management systems, or review what you have in place to ensure it's comprehensive and effective, contact us today.
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