David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Affco meatworking plant failed in safety after cleaner impaled

The incident occurred at Affco NZ's plant at Rangiuru, south of Te Puke. Photo / John Borren
The incident occurred at Affco NZ's plant at Rangiuru, south of Te Puke. Photo / John Borren

An Affco meatworking plant failed to follow its own safety rules in a case which led to a cleaner becoming impaled on a meat hook, a court has found.

Jason Matahiki was working as a night cleaner at Affco NZ's plant at Rangiuru, south of Te Puke, when his head was "penetrated by one of the prongs of a suspended hook".
A judgment - which found Affco guilty of breaching health and safety laws - said the hook went into Mr Matahiki's head "above and behind his left ear, before the point of the hook exited immediately to the left of his left eye".

"Mr Matahiki was carried, suspend on the hook, for a very short distance before his screams alerted a work mate to hit the emergency stop button for the chain."

Judge Peter Rollo was to have sentenced Affco this week but the hearing has now been delayed until April 20. Mr Matahiki - who testified in the case - had no recollection of the accident, said the judge.

Affco defended the charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act,. saying the accident was Mr Matahiki's fault. Instead, Judge Rollo found: "There were critical company failures."

Judge Rollo said he was satisfied the company too health and safety obligations seriously and worked to avoid harm to staff and others on the plant.

But in this case, he found that Mr Matahiki's head had become caught between the hook and a redundant frame which served no purpose in the area on which he was working as the scanner previously attached had been removed.

"The prong has pushed his head forward, it seems to me, and the right side of his head must have immediately come into 'crush' contact with the scanner frame."

Judge Rollo said it sas not "negligent employee responsibility" but failure by Affco by allowing the chain carrying the hook to be moving through the cleaning process, which was contrary to its own policies.

While Mr Matahiki told the court he should not have been standing where he was when caught by the hook, there was no company guidance against standing where he was. Evidence from the cleaner's health and safety representative was that it was necessary to stand where Mr Matahiki had been injured to clean the "head off machine".

Judge Rollo said he was satisfied that logically there was a regular need for a cleaner to access the area.

He said the risk of constantly moving chains carrying the hooks "should have been obvious to Affco at a much earlier stage" and the company was required by law to identify hazards. That onus included identifying that the scanner frame, without the scanner, posed a risk.

New Zealand Meat Workers and Related Trades Union organiser Darien Fenton said she was pleased with the judge's finding over an incident which had been "traumatic" for Mr Matahiki. She said it was unfortunate he was required to undergo the pressure of a court case while trying to cope with the aftermath of the accident. She said she was not confident Affco had learned from the incident.

Affco spokesman Andy Leonard said it believed "every accident is the fault of someone". "We have tightened up access. In this particular incident it was a person in a restricted area and unfortunate despite training and signs."

He said it was the first accident on the chain processor after years of operation. He said it was "extremely unfortunate and taken seriously by the company".

- NZ Herald

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