'Standards slipped' - firm fined $65,000

By Corey Charlton

A company which employs thousands of people in New Zealand has been fined $65,000 in relation to incidents in which two employees were burned and required plastic surgery after exposure to a cleaning chemical.

The incidents occurred at Progressive Meat Limited's (PML) meatworks in Hastings, and the two were employees of OCS Limited, a cleaning company contracted to clean the premises.

OCS Limited employs about 3500 people across the country.

The two employees were found to have access to both diluted and undiluted versions of the chemical Magnafoam in their work cleaning the boning and slaughter rooms of the meatworks.

One victim received burns to his leg and the other to her hand, in two separate incidents on November 13 and 16 2010, but it was unknown if the injuries were due to undiluted or diluted forms of the chemical.

Charges against PML had previously been dismissed.

In sentencing, Judge Geoff Rea said the company had safety policies, but "standards were allowed to slip, leading to the injuries of these two people".

"In the end, I have determined both charges have been proved on the basis of a failure to provide adequate supervision," the judge said.

"Unfortunately, where the rubber met the road, if that's the right way of putting it, the supervision fell down.

"There was an extremely thorough theoretical model for safety of employees. Unfortunately the theory, at least over the period of time covered by these two charges, did not translate to actual supervision on the job."

However, he did not feel the company had a "defiant" approach to safety standards and it had a clean record.

"They have employees numbering in the thousands ... this is the first time that they have been convicted of an offence or offences such as these."

A statement from OCS Limited's managing director James Fletcher said the company was pleased its record had been recognised and safety remained it's number one priority.

"We were sorry that members of our staff had been hurt in these accidents, as safety is a key priority for us and we treat safety concerns very seriously," he said.

"Following these accidents we increased the level of formal supervision on our sites.

"We also discontinued labour-only contracts where we have no control over the provision of chemicals and equipment."

The Department of Labour, which brought the two charges of failing to stop exposure to hazards, and the defence also agreed on reparation of $5000 to be paid to each victim.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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