An underground accident that resulted in a mine employee losing a finger brought a $30,000 fine and a $10,000 reparation order against East Otago mineral extracting company Oceana Gold.
The company had admitted breaching the Health and Safety in Employment Act by failing, as an employer, to take all practicable steps to ensure its employee, Johnstone Henry Lyle Palmer, was not exposed to hazards arising out of the use of a Sandvik DS420 cable bolter cement handling unit in his workplace on July 2, 2012.
Palmer had his hand in the bottom outlet of the machine's cement mixing bowl to clear out grout which had hardened during a delay in the grout being pumped between cable bolts and holes drilled in the roof of an underground roadway.
The water blaster which would normally have been used to clear the hardened grout was not working that day and a lower pressure hose was less effective.
Another employee had activated an interlock to stop the mixing paddles before he removed grout from the top of the bowl. But he inadvertently bumped the control switch while Palmer's left hand was in the dump valve at the base of the bowl. The dump valve was not protected by a guard and Palmer's hand was caught between the valve and the outlet.
At sentencing in the Dunedin District Court, yesterday prosecuting counsel Andrew Gane of Wellington characterised the particular hazard as "blindingly obvious".
He said the company had failed to identify that the guard was missing but had now changed its management processes so the guard could be removed in a controlled manner.
Defence counsel Allie Cunningham said the presence at sentencing of several senior Oceana Gold employees indicated how seriously the prosecution was being taken. It was the first time the company had been before the court. Since the accident large sums of money had been spent on staff training and extra guards had been placed on the particular machine, to prevent any future incidents. The company had topped up the victim's salary while he was off injured and had reviewed the type of cement used to ensure there would be fewer situations of cement hardening in the drum if work was delayed.
Cunningham said the company did not accept the hazard was "blindingly obvious" as asserted by the ministry. The accident came about because of a series of events. The hazard was not one that was always present and always posing a risk.
Judge Michael Crosbie said the court had to take into account that, but for the other employee bumping the switch, the accident would not have happened.
The guard had been there for a purpose but had come off or been removed at some point and that fact had not been picked up in the company's audit of its machinery. Palmer remained in employment and the company appeared to have acted very responsibly in its obligations to him.
It had taken action to remedy the problem, had retrained its staff at "no little expense" and also had "an impeccable safety record", despite operating in an industry carrying serious risks. The judge assessed the companies culpability at low to moderate, meaning a $50,000 starting point for a fine. He reduced that by 40 per cent (25 per cent for the guilty plea and 15 per cent for other indications of remorse) and imposed a fine of $30,000.
He also ordered reparation was $10,000.