Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

WorkSafe NZ appeals sentence in impaling case

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Worksafe New Zealand has appealed the sentence handed down to Affco after cleaner Jason Matahiki had a meat hook go through the side of his head. PHOTO/FILE
Worksafe New Zealand has appealed the sentence handed down to Affco after cleaner Jason Matahiki had a meat hook go through the side of his head. PHOTO/FILE

WorkSafe New Zealand has appealed the sentence imposed on meat processor Affco New Zealand after a Te Puke man was impaled by a meat spreader hook at its Rangiuru plant saying it was "manifestly inadequate".

On August 19, 2014, Jason Matahiki, who was part of the night-shift cleaning crew
in the mutton room, was struck in the back of the head by a 30cm-long moving hook.

Mr Matahiki was caught between a disused scanner frame, which should have been removed, and another part of the mutton chain.

The hook was forced through his skull and came out beneath his eye.

After a judge-alone trial last year, Judge Peter Rollo found Affco guilty of failing to take all practical steps to ensure Mr Matahiki was not harmed at his work site.

The judge imposed a $30,000 fine and ordered Affco to pay $25,000 reparation.

Crown lawyer Catherine Harold, representing WorkSafe at the sentence appeal hearing in the High Court at Tauranga yesterday, submitted that the $55,000 total fine and reparation was "manifestly inadequate" to reflect the serious harm caused to the victim, and the aggravating features of this case.

Ms Harold said aside from the physical injuries, the emotional and psychological trauma suffered by Mr Matahiki was significant and ongoing.

She submitted that Judge Rollo had erred when he fixed a $40,000 starting point when assessing the fine before giving Affco credit for mitigating factors.

This error was compounded when the judge failed to uplift the starting point to take into account the firm's previous relevant convictions, she said.

Ms Harold argued that starting point should have been $80,000 to $90,000 given the company's culpability and when looking at other similar serious injury prosecution cases.

She said the reparation figure had been set too low and the Crown did not accept a discount should be allowed for the company's prior good safety record.

Affco's lawyer Mark Hammond urged Justice Paul Heath to reject the appeal.

Mr Hammond said the real essence of the prosecution case was not a failure to recognise or mitigate the risk from a potential hazard, but a failure by the company to monitor its own health and safety processes.

The process of setting the amount reparation was not "an exact science", he said.

"But I say this fits into the lower level of obviousness [of the hazard] which is where Judge Rollo put it when he assessed the company's overall culpability," he said.

Mr Hammond said the company took immediate steps to remedy the situation and fully supported the victim, who had returned to work fulltime, during his rehabilitation.

Mr Hammond further argued Judge Rollo had visited the accident site and heard all the evidence, before he imposed an "adequate" sentence.

Justice Heath reserved his decision.

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