Kiri is a digital journalist for bayofplentytimes.co.nz.

Man killed in quarry death sparks record pay out

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Emergency services at the scene where a young man was killed on the job at Oropi Quarry last year. Photo/file
Emergency services at the scene where a young man was killed on the job at Oropi Quarry last year. Photo/file

Bay of Plenty employers have collectively paid out more than $548,400 over the past four years for causing serious harm to their workers, including the death of a man while operating a quarry digger and a man who was impaled by a meat work while on the job.

Affco New Zealand and Oropi Quarry Ltd with its sole director Catherine Renner were fined a total of $103,200 by the courts after investigations from Worksafe New Zealand. This includes a $73,200 fine and $120,000 reparation fee from Oropi Quarries to the family of a 24-year-old man killed after losing control of a dump truck.

The fine and reparation fee are each the largest a Western Bay employer has had to pay in at least the past four years.

The man cannot be named for legal reasons but findings into his death revealed a ''litany of health and safety failures'' on the part of his employer.

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The man's death, in which he was crushed by the heavy machinery, was one of 13 Worksafe investigations this year in the Western Bay of Plenty. Of this, only two employers were convicted and fined.

Affco were ordered to pay a fine of $30,000 plus reparation of $25,000 in April after a worker was impaled by a meat hook in his head.

Last year there were 17 investigations compared to 31 in 2014. There were just two convictions last year, involving CMH Contracting Ltd and HEB Construction Ltd.

Worksafe New Zealand deputy general manager for assessments Jo Pugh said construction was one of four key industries it was concerned about. Manufacturing, agriculture and forestry were the others.

New Zealand's "she'll be right" attitude was one of the challenges it struggled to overcome as an agency "because we are constantly looking for how to make things work rather than making things better".

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However, the biggest challenge Worksafe faced was changing the employer's mindset from one of liability to one of genuine concern about staff safety, Ms Pugh said.

Hefty fines and reparation partially helped by acting as a deterrent to would-be reckless employers but Worksafe hoped to reach beyond that.

It's not good enough that people don't come home at the end of the day.
Worksafe New Zealand deputy general manager for assessments Jo Pugh

''Employers are looking at it from a liability point of view rather than a safe culture point of view. What we want is to take that new awareness out there and translate that to behaviour change.''

She said this was done not by focusing on liability but by focusing on a safety culture. If employers focused too much on fines they could become over-cautious rather than actually thinking about the risks, she said.

''It's not good enough that people don't come home at the end of the day.

''People need to realise that enough is enough and to not be prepared to put up with an unsafe environment.''

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said it recently surveyed its members on whether changes made to the Health and Safety Act earlier this year, to put more onus on employers to keep staff safe, had made any impact.

''A quarter said 'no, no real change', half said 'yes, it's a bit better', and another quarter said 'yes, there's been a big change','' Mr Wagstaff said.

''What that says is that there's still a fair way to go, but that's not surprising. Culture doesn't change quickly. It's not just a new manual. It's people's thoughts, habits, etc.''

E tu union national director of industry Jed O'Connell said he and his members had noticed a change in culture towards health and safety.

''There's no doubt there has been a huge awareness since the Pike River disaster. At that time was the start of a seismic shift in attitude towards health and safety.

''It is happening but ... changing people's culture takes a considerable amount of time,'' Mr O'Connell said.

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