A Rotorua timber business fined $48,000 in 2015 for breaching health and safety laws could have prevented an incident that severely injured an employee earlier this year, WorkSafe documents reveal.

In March, WorkSafe was notified of an incident that left an apprentice at Hume Pine with "serious lacerations" fearing "he was going to lose his hand", according to WorkSafe's Duty Holder Review files, obtained by the Rotorua Daily Post under the Official Information Act.

The employee, whose name was withheld for privacy reasons, had been working for eight and a half hours and was not supervised as he made a piece "for the domestic door of a toilet on site" with a lathe - a machine that changes the shape of metal parts using turning, cutting edges.

"I stopped the machine to check the finish by rubbing my thumb along the aluminium piece. I did this while the machine was slowing down," the employee said in his interview about the accident.

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"I felt my arm being pulled into the machine and my immediate reaction was to pull back. I felt the pain, looked at my arm and then ran into the office."

One of the first aiders said he was in a meeting at 4.10pm when the injured worker came down the hall to the office he was in.

"[A colleague] passed me a Hi-viz to use as a tourniquet while [colleague] and [colleague] grabbed me some towels to apply to the wound. At this stage [injured worker] was in tears saying that he was going to lose his hand."

Hume Pine's internal review, provided to WorkSafe, found that the sleeve of the technician's overalls was caught in the lathe machine, and when he pulled at it he was left with serious lacerations.

The worker had started the third year of his apprenticeship and had completed training so that he did not need supervision for introductory tasks on the lathe, such as the one he was doing when injured.

The review concluded the direct causes of the accident were human error, complacency when completing a task that was not well suited to the lathe, and the worker not having used the lathe in at least six weeks.

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Parts of the lathe machine directly related to the incident. Photo/WorkSafe
Parts of the lathe machine directly related to the incident. Photo/WorkSafe

It identified the root causes, which, if added or removed, would have prevented the incident from happening, to be the absence of documented safety procedures for the worker to revise before using the machine, the absence of hazard identification or risk assessment completed on the lathe, the lack of controls such as guards or signage around the lathe and that the lathe was left out of the bi-annual safe machinery audit.

Additional possible causes identified in the review included a lack of understanding and instruction, fatigue, dietary options (energy drinks) and the injured worker's arrogant attitude.

WorkSafe Duty Holder Review Officer Tanya Symington provided Hume Pine (NZ) Ltd with a copy of the WorkSafe Victoria Guidance Note Safe use of metal turning lathes which highlighted that between 2007 and 2017 metal turning lathes were associated with three fatalities and a number of serious incidents in Victoria.

"Those injured have included both experienced and inexperienced operators," it said.

When the Duty Holder Review was complete, Symington said she would close the file with a recommendation that "no further action" was required, in light of the quality of Hume Pine's reporting, the systems and processes reviewed, and the business' willingness to provide evidence and documentation.

In a written statement to the Rotorua Daily Post, a Hume Pine spokesman said there had been no long-term effects from the injury for the worker, and he was still employed by the company.

"The worker has fully recovered and is now back at work on full duties."

He said Hume Pine was committed to complying with workplace health and safety obligations and "ensuring, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all our workers and as such we are continually reviewing and improving our WHS management system".