Frostbitten workers cost company $22k

By Ben Chapman-Smith

The two employees suffered from frostbite in July last year while unloading fish from holds filled with water chilled to about -17C. Photo / New Zealand Herald
The two employees suffered from frostbite in July last year while unloading fish from holds filled with water chilled to about -17C. Photo / New Zealand Herald

A fish processing company has been ordered to pay $22,000 after two of its employees suffered frostbite while unloading fish from a vessel last year.

Pelco NZ, a privately-owned and operated company based in Mount Maunganui, was fined $16,000 in Tauranga District Court yesterday and told to pay the victims $6000.

The court ruled Pelco had breached the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 by "failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work".

The two employees, who had minimal experience, suffered from frostbite in July last year while unloading fish from holds filled with water chilled to about -17C.

Both employees had been given pairs of thin rubber gloves and cotton glove liners but each had torn their gloves on fish spikes, which allowed water to get in.

A safety briefing had been provided but had not specifically identified the dangers of working in extremely cold water, the court heard.

The first victim, who was hospitalised for two-and-a-half weeks, was responding very slowly to treatment but still did not have use of the fingers on his right hand, Maritime New Zealand said today.

"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."

Water got into the man's gloves during his first two-hour shift, causing his hands to become numb.

He took his scheduled break and returned to work with a new pair of gloves, which then ripped open on the spikes of a fish and let in freezing water.

The man noticed that his right hand had gone hard, and when he removed his glove at lunchtime, two of his fingers had gone black.

His supervisor immediately arranged for him to be transported to hospital.

The second victim had received medical treatment for his injuries and has recovered from the frostbite but is still unable to work in cold conditions.

His hands had become numb and sore at the end of his first shift and he was advised by a Pelco employee to get his circulation going and keep warm.

The man later tore his gloves on fish spikes so put another pair on top, hoping that they would block the holes in the first pair.

At lunch time his supervisor 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, he noted his hands had turned white and he awoke the next morning to find a large blister over the little finger on his left hand. He then sought medical assistance.

Pelco had already paid $10,000 to the first victim but was told to pay an additional $4,000, plus $2,000 to the second victim.

Pelin Davison, Maritime New Zealand compliance manager, 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."

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