Yvonne Atkins feels like there is a part of her missing.

Life has not been the same since the 30-year-old's partner Leslie David Remuera Laing, died in a tragic workplace accident three years ago.

Yesterday his employer, logging exporters Guru NZ, was ordered to pay nearly half a million dollars in fines and reparation after accepting it didn't keep the young father of four safe, as required under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Atkins, who was three-months pregnant when he died, told the Manukau District Court the hardest part was watching her kids grow up without their father, a hands-on dad who had been fully involved with the children.


Their house had felt cold and empty and lacking laughter after he died.

"I lost my best friend, my soulmate...the love of my life," Atkins said during the sentencing. "There's a part of me that's missing. Our family is not complete anymore - I feel like a part of me has died with him."

Laing died on September 11, 2017 after he was hit by a one-tonne excavator grapple while trying to close a container full of logs at Guru NZ's site in Mangere in South Auckland.

It was his first day back on the job, after he had taken six weeks off due to injuries suffered when he was randomly assaulted in Papakura.

He had been working for Guru NZ for around a year as a log scaler but had taken time off after being assaulted. Determined to support his young family and with ACC providing insufficient money to pay the bills, the 28-year-old father decided to go back to work.

His first day back was September 11.

Guru NZ receives logs from around the wider Auckland area, offloading them onsite, fumigating them and loading them into containers for export.

Those containers - considered D-grade as they are previously used - must be bolted closed. However the court heard at times the doors were hard to shut as some were warped, and they were normally placed on a soft surface which could lead to sinking.


An excavator was normally used to push the container to align the doors so a worker on the ground could close them. Part of the excavator would be disengaged while this happened and the grapple cap tucked out of the way.

On September 11 Laing was closing the doors when the one-tonne grapple suddenly swung down and hit him, crushing him against the container.

He was rushed to Middlemore Hospital but died shortly after.

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In his victim impact statement Les Laing's father Doug Laing - a reporter at NZME paper Hawke's Bay Today - told the court he had lost his only son and his sleep, work and health had suffered as a result. Les' mother was showing "all the signs of her ongoing and unresolved grief" and worried about her own future, he said.

As well as reparations he wanted improved legislation and better resourcing of Worksafe to avoid similar events happening in the future. Guru NZ would be working with him to make other companies aware of their responsibilities, he said.

Leslie David Remuera (Les) Laing died on September 11, 2017 on his first day back at work for logging exporter Guru NZ. Photo / Supplied
Leslie David Remuera (Les) Laing died on September 11, 2017 on his first day back at work for logging exporter Guru NZ. Photo / Supplied

WorkSafe's investigation found a number of shortcomings including a failure by Guru NZ to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment; failing to ensure a firm surface under the container, and failing to ensure workers were at least 7m from the excavator while it was operating.

There should also have been a second safety measure, such as a security chain, to prevent the grapple from swinging in case it was not immobilised properly, WorkSafe found.

Judge Richard Earwaker noted the company had fully co-operated with the inquiry and taken steps to fix the issues raised, including installing a concrete pad costing $230,000. The excavator operator is also now required to immobilise the machine before climbing down and closing the door himself, requiring no second worker on the ground.

Worksafe's lawyer Catalijne Pille acknowledged Guru NZ had been paying Laing's immediate family $1500 per month since his death, and had taken remedial steps since the incident including adding a concrete pad for containers to sit on.

"However WorkSafe's position is that these steps could have been taken and should have been taken prior to the incident."

Guru NZ's lawyer Garth Gallaway said in his submission it was clear from the victim impact statements that Laing's loss was "palpable". He agreed with WorkSafe that $110,000 should be paid to the family for emotional harm.

"These payments in no way compensate for the loss which this family has suffered... they are very willingly made."

But he said Guru deserved credit for acknowledging its responsibility from the start.

"The system that was in place worked effectively up until the time of his tragic death," he said.

"Sadly it is sometimes not until something [like this happens] that the failings ...become obvious."

Les Laing (left) died in a workplace accident in September 2017. Pictured (left-right) with his younger sister Roimata, niece Devon Laing, and older sister Pani. Photo / Supplied
Les Laing (left) died in a workplace accident in September 2017. Pictured (left-right) with his younger sister Roimata, niece Devon Laing, and older sister Pani. Photo / Supplied

Judge Earwaker ordered Guru NZ to pay a fine of $330,750. The initial fine of $630,000 was discounted by 30 per cent for the company's cooperation with the investigation, genuine remorse and reparations made to the family, and an additional 25 per cent for pleading guilty to the charge.

Guru NZ was also ordered to pay Laing's family $110,000 for emotional harm. No payments were ordered for consequential loss as the company has already paid $37500 to Laing's partner to support her and the children in the 2.5 years since his death.

Guru was sentenced under sections 36(1)(a), 48(1) and 2(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 for breach of primary duty of care by a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU).

Section 48(2)(c) carries a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.

Judge Earwaker also acknowledged logging companies face an uncertain future to due the drastic impact coronavirus has had on the industry. He said it was to the company's credit it had insisted on sentencing going ahead and payment being made despite not knowing its future financial situation.