$20,000 reparation ordered for loss of four fingers in chipper

By Kristin Edge

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A Northland man will get $20,000 from his employer, Carter Holt Harvey, after he lost four fingers in a wood-chipping machine while trying to change the blades.

The company - one of New Zealand's biggest - was also fined $44,887.50 after pleading guilty to a charge of failing to take steps to ensure an employee was not harmed under the Health and Safety Act.

The court heard how the employee had not followed the correct procedures and, on February 5 this year, as he was about to change the blades in the machine, his right hand was pulled into the rotating blades of the chipper and four fingers were amputated.

In the Whangarei District Court yesterday, Judge Greg Davis said the person changing the blades was required to turn the power off to isolate the power source. A brake was applied and then when the blades had stopped rotating the safety hood was removed and the blades changed.

The blades in the chipper, at the company's LVL plant at Marsden Point, are required to be changed every six hours and the process takes about 30 minutes.

In this case, the worker had failed to follow the procedures that were accepted and put in place by Carter Holt Harvey.

He was cleaning the hood area with an airhose while the blades were still rotating. The hose came into contact with the blades and dragged his hand into the machine.

He spent two weeks in Middlemore Hospital and underwent surgery to attach two of the severed fingers.

Since the incident, the company had fitted an interlock device to the chipper which cost $2000.

Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment northern manager John Howard said wood chippers were extremely dangerous machines, so any sort of maintenance or exposure to the working parts had to be carried out in accordance with the agreed operating procedures and the manufacturer's operating instructions.

"An interlock device would have prevented this accident by stopping the chipper hood from being opened to expose the blades when the drum was still rotating," Mr Howard said.

Judge Davis raised concern that the woodchipper injury came only months after a man had his right leg amputated below the knee following a collision between the forklift he was driving and a 20-tonne log loader.

Judge Davis said the company had shown remorse and helped the latest injured employee immediately after losing his fingers by paying costs of about $4000 for accommodation, petrol vouchers and meals for his immediate family.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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