A Waihī company and one of its directors has been fined more than $150,000 after a worker had to have the ends of his right middle and ring fingers amputated after they were crushed in a metal press.
Kimberley Tool and Design Ltd (KTD) and director Jon-Brian Parker were sentenced in the Tauranga District Court yesterday after each earlier pleaded guilty to a charge laid by WorkSafe New Zealand under the Health & Safety Work Act 2015.
The accident happened on November 2, 2018, after the injured worker received limited training in how to use the metal press machine he was operating, the court heard.
The worker began operating the metal press, which required putting a piece of metal through the machine that went up and down.
As the worker put his hand into the machine to take the metal out, the press came down and part of his glove got caught, resulting in parts of two fingers being "smashed". The ends of his right middle and ring fingers required amputation, the court heard.
WorkSafe New Zealand's investigation found the press was not properly guarded and did not have the required emergency stop button.
The court heard the company had previously been convicted for a similar accident.
KTD admitted a charge of failing in its health and safety duty to not expose workers, including the victim, to risk of serious injury from exposure to a crushing hazard by the moving parts of a press when in operation. The maximum penalty for the company was a $1.5 million fine.
Parker admitted he had failed in his duty to not expose workers, including the victim, to a risk of serious injury from exposure to a crushing hazard created by moving parts of a press. His charge attracted a maximum fine of $300,000.
Judge Stephen Coyle fined KTD $120,000 and Parker $35,000 to be paid over five years and awarded $30,000 reparation to the victim and $12,521.65 costs to be paid to WorkSafe.
A WorkSafe inspector read the former worker's victim impact statement to the court.
The victim said the injuries had a huge impact on his life and the throbbing pain lasted for months. He alleged he had to learn to write, type, draw and play the guitar again.
"It was the worst pain I have ever felt in my life," he said.
The victim also said attending hand therapy was "very painful", he had difficulty sleeping for up to two months and became "very stressed and angry" during his recovery.
"I know this accident wouldn't have happened if there was a safety guard on the machine to prevent these types of injuries from happening."
The victim said he was still looking for work, and meanwhile has continued to study to get his Level 3 NCEA qualifications. He hoped to pursue a career in clinical psychology.
WorkSafe's lawyer Trina Williams Mcllroy submitted a fine of $150,000 for the company and $48,000 for Parker was appropriate.
She said there was "no unequivocal evidence" the company and Parker could not afford to pay this amount in instalments over the next three to five years.
The defendants' lawyer James Gurnick argued WorkSafe's suggested fines were too high given the company's current and uncertain future financial position. He urged Judge Coyle not to impose fines that were "too crippling".
Gurnick said KTD, which employed 35 staff, had suffered significant losses in 2020 and for the 2021 financial year it also had a $30,000 deficit. In addition, there had been a 40 per cent increase in the cost of materials and if the company had to absorb those costs in the years ahead it would be an added financial burden, he said.
The business was under enormous pressure and "currently operating on tenterhooks" due to the impacts of Covid-19.
Parker was concerned imposing the fines suggested by WorkSafe could significantly impact the future viability of the business and staff livelihoods.
Gurnick argued the company should be fined no more than $100,000 and Parker $20,000 which they could pay by instalments over the next three years. He also said costs sought by WorkSafe was also too high.
Judge Coyle said this accident had happened after the victim had only had some "cursory training" and by any objective assessment "it was inadequate".
"It is quite clear from his victim impact statement that the effects of this accident were and remain significant for him."
Judge Coyle told the victim he recognised no amount of money would ever compensate him for the loss he had suffered and ongoing consequences but he had to set a reparation figure based on the defendants' ability to pay.
He said the penalties he imposed also must hold the defendants accountable for these failures and denounce and deter them from similar offending.
In a written statement, Simon Humphries, WorkSafe's head of specialist interventions at the time of the accident, said this prosecution sent a warning to all company directors.
"Directors have explicit legal duties to undertake due diligence on their company's adherence to health and safety obligations ... Failing to do so not only puts their workers at risk, but it also puts them in our sights."
Humphries described the company's induction and staff training as haphazard and undocumented and there was previous history of the machine not operating as expected.
Humphries said Parker should have known he had to step up and fix these problems and because he failed to do so, a worker was unnecessarily injured.