Fish processing company Pelco was yesterday fined $16,000 in the Tauranga District Court after two of its employees suffered frostbite while unloading fish from a vessel in July 2012.
The company faced a charge under Section 16 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (the Act) for "failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work".
Two Pelco employees, both with minimal experience, suffered from frostbite while unloading fish from holds filled with water chilled to approximately -17°C. The water causes the fish to float to the surface, where they can be manually loaded onto conveyor belts.
All employees received a pair of thin rubber gloves and cotton glove liners, as well as other waterproof clothing. They also received a safety briefing, however this did not specifically identify the dangers of working in extremely cold water.
Both employees suffered frostbite as a result of working with their hands in extremely cold water. Both had also torn their gloves on fish spikes, which allowed water to get into their gloves.
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) Regional Compliance Manager Central Pelin Davison said the sentence was a good result for the victims.
"This sentence sends a strong message that health and safety is something which must be taken very seriously by employers. Just providing safety equipment is not sufficient - all practicable steps must be taken to mitigate or eliminate the hazard."
The first victim was hospitalised for 2 ½ weeks. He is responding very slowly to treatment but still does not have use of the fingers on his right hand. They remain swollen and stiff, with the joints of the fingers locked in a fixed position. He must continue to wear a compression garments, and is likely to have permanent, limited mobility in the four fingers. His treatment is ongoing.
The second victim received medical treatment for his injuries. He has recovered from the frostbite but is unable to work in cold conditions.
In addition to the fine imposed, Pelco were ordered to pay $2,000 to the second victim, and an additional $4,000 to the first victim, to whom they have already paid $10,000.
During his first two hours' work, water got into the first victim's gloves as he was reaching into the hold. He noted that his hands were numb and very cold, and subsequently took his scheduled break and returned to work with a new pair of gloves.
During his second two-hour shift, he ripped one of his gloves on the spikes of a fish, which caused water to enter the glove. He noticed that his right hand had gone hard, and when he removed his glove at lunchtime, two of his fingers had gone black.
He then notified his supervisor who immediately arranged for him to be transported to hospital.
The second victim noticed his hands were numb and sore at the end of his first shift. During his second shift, his hands became sore during his first two hours' work. He mentioned this to a Pelco employee who advised him that the best thing to do was to get his circulation going and keep warm.
He continued to work and tore his gloves on fish spikes which allowing water to enter them. He put another pair on top, hoping that they would block the holes in the first pair.
At lunch time the second victim asked his supervisor the best way to get the circulation back to his fingers. She advised him to wrap his hands around a hot cup of coffee.
During the afternoon, the second victim was able to rotate between jobs so his hands were not constantly going into the cold water.
After his shift had finished, the second victim noted that his hands had turned white. When he awoke the following morning, a large blister had formed over the little finger on his left hand. He then sought medical assistance.