A Matamata construction company charged after one of its employees was buried alive will likely face a hefty penalty, the sentencing judge says.

Michael Haines died on May 28 last year after being buried when a freshly dug trench collapsed on at a work site on Rapurapu Rd, near Matamata.

His workmates frantically tried to dig him out but he died at the scene.

Mr Haines had worked as a contractor for Steelcon Construction Ltd for several years.


Steelcon Construction Ltd, through its counsel Jonathan Temm, appeared in the High Court at Hamilton today for sentencing on three Health and Safety in Employment Act breaches, including failing to take appropriate action to prevent injury to the 34-year-old.

The company's director, Rodney Bishop, was not in court for the hearing much to the concern of Justice John Fogarty who was reluctant to proceed with sentencing the company and its director separately.

Mr Temm said Mr Bishop faces the rare and serious charge of manslaughter, which he intends to defend, and just the second company director to face the charge after forestry contractor Paul Burr was in September found not guilty of the manslaughter of 20-year-old Lincoln Kidd on a Horowhenua forestry block in December 2013.

Mr Bishop was on a digger when the incident happened and immediately asked where Mr Haines was after being alerted.

The trench had been dug the week before and over the weekend had been subjected to heavy rain causing "minor collapse" of the vertical walls, Mr Temm said.

Justice Fogarty proceeded with the sentencing however reserved his decision to review case law involving incidents of a similar kind and a similar number of victims.

Mr Haines is survived by wife, Krystle, and their five children. Mrs Haines and her husband's parents, Beatrice and Kevin, all read their victim impact statements to the judge, however they successfully requested their comments be suppressed.

When discussing a type of sentence, Mr Temm and crown prosecutor Ross Douch agreed with Justice Fogarty that all funds should go to the Haines family in a reparation order rather than involve a fine be imposed.


"It's a charade to pay money that it can't pay and I would wonder what the point of that is ... [the company] is impecunious ... an empty tin box," Justice Fogarty said.

Mr Temm said the company remained operating simply so that it could settle the court proceedings and pay reparation through its insurer, NZI.