Firm to pay compensation over steel beam death

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A construction worker died after being struck by a steel girder at the former Farmers site. Photo / Paul Taylor
A construction worker died after being struck by a steel girder at the former Farmers site. Photo / Paul Taylor

A Hastings engineering firm will pay fines and compensation of $130,000 for failing to take all reasonable steps to protect the safety of worker killed on a downtown Napier construction site.

Patton Engineering was charged by Worksafe NZ in an investigation following the death of Jeff McCulloch, 52, of Hastings, after he was struck by a steel beam while working on the old Farmers site redevelopment on May 15 last year. The beam had fallen from a lifting frame.

Inquiries revealed he appeared to stumble and grab the beam, which fell because it was not properly secured.

Pleading guilty to a charge of failing to take all reasonable steps to protect the safety of a worker, the company was yesterday ordered to pay reparation of $70,000 to be shared by Mr McCulloch's two daughters, and fined $40,000.

Judge Tony Adeane, in the Napier District Court, said he set the sums taking into account $20,000 already put aside by the company in trust for the children and grandchildren.

In a hearing shortened by the judge's decision to dispense with oral submissions in addition to "lengthy'' written submissions provided by prosecuting and defence counsel, Mr McCulloch's daughter spoke tearfully of the death's impact on herself and 4-year-old son.

Over recent years her father had been her "mechanic'' and her "security'', said Shyanne Barnes, and his death had left her "scared all the time of losing another loved one''.

"I miss him more as time goes on,'' she said, saddened by what he would miss out on - walking her down the aisle at her wedding next year, and enjoying the growth of his grandchildren.

"He loses out on living his life the way that he wanted,'' she said, "and that breaks my heart.''

She was particularly struck by inquiries by her son Jacobi of his grandmother when his mother was at work. Comments that "Grandad died at work'' saddened her because her son would associate death with going to work.

Afterwards, she told of how her father was to have picked up her sister from school, and it was as they were looking for him after he didn't arrive that they received a phone call.

Mother Karen Barnes-Wilson said the family felt also for Patton Engineering and its staff.

"They have all lost someone, too,'' she said.

Most of the company staff were members of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, which took a strong interest in the case and the well-being of the family from the outset.

Organiser Norm Mouritsen, of Napier, said the union was happy with the outcome, but remained concerned about health and safety issues in the workplace, saying there is ``a long way to go'' to make work safe for all workers, as companies ``cut corners'' in the competition for contracts and to complete work.

"Again, it is an absolute tragedy,'' he said.

Judge Adeane said the lifting frame being used at the time had not been adequately designed, and a hazard that had not been identified.

Company counsel Stu Webster said all that had needed to be said on the company's behalf had been said in court. He had no further comment.

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