David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Second employee in meat hook accident at Affco meatworks plant

A second employee has been injured in an accident involving a meat hook at the Affco NZ plant in Rangiuru.

It is the same Bay of Plenty meatworks which was fined $30,000 this week after a meat hook penetrated Jason Matahiki's head, pulling him along the chain like a slaughtered sheep.

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This case was revealed in a document released under the Official Information Act to former Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly and shows the accident "crushed the side" of the meatworker's head.


The accident was one of 32 "serious harm" notifications made by Affco to WorkSafe NZ between January 2015 and January 2016.

"Male employee on the mutton slaughter chain pulling the hide off a carcass. He bent under the chain to make a cut on the front hock. As he came back under the chain, he was caught by a moving hook and his head caught by a hock clamp.

"He was pulled along the chain for half a metre and the fixed hock release mechanism crushed the side of his head."

In the case of Mr Matahiki, who was working as a cleaner when injured, the chain carrying the hooks was not meant to be moving during cleaning.

In this latest accident, the chain was moving carrying carcasses as part of the meatwork's normal operation.

There is no indication the hook penetrated the worker, as happened in Mr Matahiki's case.

Kelly's request came amid drawn-out industrial tension between Affco NZ and the New Zealand Meat Workers and Related Trades Union.

The relationship between the two parties was described by Employment Court Chief Judge Graeme Colgan as "dysfunctional and apparently deteriorating" last year.

The meatworkers union has claimed the drive towards individual contracts has increased the rate of accidents at Affco NZ - a claim the company denies.

Union organiser Darien Fenton said Affco NZ was signing contracts with workers who had less experience than union members and that it translated into a riskier health and safety environment.

Former Labour Party MP Darien Fenton is the Director of Organising, Meat Workers Union.
Former Labour Party MP Darien Fenton is the Director of Organising, Meat Workers Union.

The Herald has obtained figures through he OIA from WorkSafe for the big five meat companies, including Affco.

The figures show accidents at Affco have marginally increased at a time when the numbers of accidents at the other big companies are falling.

The number of non-severe injuries has risen 6 per cent while serious injuries is about the same level.In contrast, Silver Fern Farms - which employs 7000 people - saw its non-severe injuries fall 48 per cent while severe injuries fell by 61 per cent after introducing a company-wide system to address workplace safety.

ACC figures for Affco, also obtained under the OIA, show increases in claims from 2013 to 2015 in distinct areas - soft tissue injuries went from 464 claims to 562 claims while lacerations and punctures increased from 198 claims to 275 claims.

The Bay of Plenty - where Affco's Rangiuru plant is based - shows the biggest jump in claims, going from 116 made in 2013 to 190 in 2015.

Affco general manager Andy Leonard told the Herald the figures don't tell the full story because they don't include the increase in staff numbers and production.

Mr Leonard said the company's own data - which was shown to the Herald but not able to be copied - showed the number of accidents had dropped when rated against the number of hours worked.

In raw numbers, staff had increased over the past few seasons from 2800 people to 3600 people, he said. An increase in stock processed through the company's group of meatworks had also increased.

WorkSafe chief executive Gordon MacDonald told the Herald that the meat industry was part of a health and safety focus on manufacturing - one of four areas the regulator is targeting.

"We know meat and meat product manufacturing are more than half of all serious harm notifications in the food and beverage sector."

He said there were no companies among the main group of companies - including Affco - which was an outlier in terms of injuries sustained by employees.

Mr MacDonald said the focus on meatworks and better work with accident data - such as that obtained by the Herald - had allowed better targeting of issues in the meat industry.

"Since we started to get better at these things, we've seen a reduction in severe injuries and a greater reduction in non-severe [injuries]."

- NZ Herald

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