A larrikin Taranaki boxer, hairdresser and horse trainer has tragically died at a meatworks plant.

Robin Barry Killeen was crushed to death at Anzco Foods' plant in Eltham on Thursday morning in a workplace incident, his daughter Tania Killeen-Noy said.

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The much-loved 74-year-old had been a fixture in the Eltham district for years, most often seen driving his trusty Toyota Corolla or on his push bike.

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He has been a featherweight and lightweight boxer, gained his hairdressing certificate in the late 1960s, trained horses and at one point owned the Waimate Hotel in the Coromandel, Tania said.

Robin Killeen pictured with his three grandchildren, Kat, James and Elizabeth. Photo / Supplied
Robin Killeen pictured with his three grandchildren, Kat, James and Elizabeth. Photo / Supplied

Always in favour of a good time, Killeen and his buddies were known to pull the piano out of the hotel on a big night and take it the town square to play, she said.

"He was cheeky, quirky and funny - just a good, old-style Kiwi bloke," she said.

His love for animals was also enduring.

Having owned race horses most of his life, you could still find him down at the stables willing to bend his back to help shoe them.

If he spotted legs of lamb on special, he would just as likely buy two, bringing one leg for the family and another he could share with their dogs, she said.

Killeen's wife Christine was devastated at the 74-year-old's death and in shock, Tania said.

The couple were married in 1988 and were like two peas in a pod, doing everything together.

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He was grandfather to Kat, James and Elizabeth and father to two daughters and a son, who had also died.

Killeen had been working as a cleaning contractor at the Anzco plant for extra income to help with the couple's pensions.

He had always worked hard, Tania said.

Robin Killeen with his granddaughter Elizabeth. Photo / Supplied
Robin Killeen with his granddaughter Elizabeth. Photo / Supplied

It was not uncommon in the past to see him work as a security guard in the early hours, before dropping by to check on the horses, then spending some time in the hairdressing salon and later pumping fuel at the petrol station.

"He was the kind of guy to give you the shirt off his back, even if he had nothing," she said.

Anzco Foods was reportedly flying flags at half mast at its Eltham meatworks out of respect to Killeen.

Police and WorkSafe were investigating his death.

"As the matter has been referred to the coroner, no further comment will be made in regards to the circumstances at this stage," police said.

Police and fire crews had earlier been called to the plant on London St at about 6.30am on Thursday in response to the incident.

Tania said she had been told by staff and investigators her dad was operating an elevator-like machine when he died.

Robin Killeen, pictured here in his younger boxing days, died in a workplace incident at a Taranaki meatworks. Photo / Supplied
Robin Killeen, pictured here in his younger boxing days, died in a workplace incident at a Taranaki meatworks. Photo / Supplied

He had used the machine to lower himself into a large container he was cleaning and then pressed a button to raise it, she said she had been told.

He then appeared to have tried to get off the machine and was crushed, she said.

"This should not have happened, a 74-year-old shouldn't have been operating a machine like this," she said.

She said both Anzco Foods and the cleaning contracting company Killeen worked for had been talking to her and his wife Christine and keeping them informed.

However, she hoped investigators held the right people accountable for his death.

Media outlet Stuff reported Killeen's death was the third incident WorkSafe had investigated at the plant this year.

A 28-year-old man had been flown to Taranaki Base Hospital in February after accidentally stabbing himself in the face, the outlet said.

In late March, a female worker received cuts to her arm while cleaning a machine and needed hospital treatment. WorkSafe said at the time no further action would be taken, Stuff reported.

In 2014, Anzco Foods was also ordered to pay $57,949 in fines and $15,000 to a worker who crushed his hand in a machine at the same site.

The 17-year-old worker was cleaning a hoof nail removal machine when his hand was drawn in to the machine after he accidentally activated a foot pedal, WorkSafe NZ said.

His hand was crushed and lacerated, and he needed surgery and a five-day stay in hospital.

He had been on his third shift, was not adequately trained and operating the machine unsupervised, Worksafe NZ said.

The company had just recently rebranded to Anzco Foods from Riverlands Eltham and the 2014 payout was the third time Riverlands Eltham was prosecuted for an employee suffering a serious injuries relating to machinery.

The Herald has sought comment from Anzco Foods.