A drainage company labourer remains wheelchair-bound after having his legs crushed by a 40-tonne digger that his colleague was operating.

Hamilton man Norman Gotz was hospitalised for a total of eight months after the incident at a farm property in Te Awamutu in March last year.

He's since had 17 steel rods inserted into his leg to hold the remaining shattered bone fragments in place, but he's expected to get back to work at some stage in the future.

Gotz was working for Hydrotech Ltd - a company that has five sites nationwide, including in Hamilton and Auckland - which specialises in drainage work, septic tanks, stormwater and wastewater installation.

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The company had earlier pleaded guilty to one charge under Section 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act (1992) for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employee, Gotz.

In her recent reserved decision, Judge Denise Clark handed down a fine of $48,875.00.

A 40 tonne digger, similar to the one pictured above, crushed Norman Gotz during a workplace accident last year. Photo / Facebook
A 40 tonne digger, similar to the one pictured above, crushed Norman Gotz during a workplace accident last year. Photo / Facebook

The company earlier agreed to pay $50,000 in reparations to Gotz at an earlier restorative justice hearing. It also paid a further $3,500 as a debt-clearance payment and paid 20 per cent of his pre-incident earnings to top up his ACC payments.

Hydrotech has also undertaken to retrain Gotz to enable him to get back into full employment with the company.

The incident occurred after the Waipa District Council hired the company to remove a group of young willow trees that were being cut down along the Mangaohoi Stream on March 15, last year.

Gotz and operations manager Paul Hopkins were tasked for the job - Hopkins driving the excavator, Gotz on foot securing the cut trees to the excavator bucket with a chain.

Throughout the morning, the pair communicated through hand signals and voice when the excavator was being used.

At some point, Gotz left the area to help the land owner clear some fencing.

However, when he returned, he approached the excavator from the right-hand side - a well-known blind spot for most excavators and other mobile machines which have boom arms.

Norman Gotz prior to his accident last year. Photo / Facebook
Norman Gotz prior to his accident last year. Photo / Facebook

Gotz assumed Hopkins had seen him and placed himself about a metre in front of the right-hand track of the machine. Hopkins moved it forward, running over both of his lower legs.

Hopkins said he saw a flash of orange and reversed the excavator back off Gotz' legs to free him.

In its investigation, Worksafe found the company did not take an adequate hazard or risk assessment for the job, which meant it didn't identify the appropriate control measures prior to starting work.

When interviewed, Gotz said he never received a job pack prior to arriving at the job - meaning he didn't know what his role would be or what he would be doing.

Worksafe also discovered the excavator ordered by Hopkins for the job did not have a hydraulic thumb attachment, which meant Gotz was required to work in close proximity to the machine.

WorkSafe Chief Inspector Keith Stewart said the company had since made changes to its procedures, but was disappointed it took an incident which seriously injured an employee for it to happen.

"It should not have taken a life-changing incident to spur the company to change. Some very simple changes on the day would mean that the employee would have the full use of his legs today. Following industry guidelines would have removed the need for anyone to work close to the machine."

Three key changes the company has since made:

• The responsibility for filling in the on-site hazard register is now rotated through all staff, giving everyone a turn at identifying and mitigating risks on-site.

• In-house training is run on a regular basis, ensuring their workers have continued education.

• Staff are expected to present projects on the hazards and the controls that they identified.