A forestry worker knocked unconscious from an electric shock at work lost two toes and the use of his right arm.
Now the company he worked for has been fined $100,000 after pleading guilty to a charge brought by WorkSafe New Zealand for failing to comply with health and safety standards.
The Reporoa company, Mike Harris Earthmoving Ltd, appeared in the Rotorua District Court yesterday for sentencing after previously pleading guilty to one charge of failing to comply with a duty to ensure the health and safety of workers and thereby risked the death or serious injury from electrocution of three people.
The worker seriously injured was granted name suppression by Judge Greg Hollister-Jones.
The incident happened at a site on Hawthornden Drive at Rotorua on November 14, 2018.
Judge Hollister-Jones said the worker was tasked with extracting logs using a forwarder, which had previously had mechanical issues.
When it was noticed the boom on the crane had stopped working, the worker was told to drive the forwarder back to the skid site and wait for the mechanics to arrive.
Judge Hollister-Jones said the worker parked the forwarder next to a stationary diesel tank close to overhead powerlines.
When two mechanics arrived, they didn't get an induction about safety procedures on the site.
The worker turned on the forwarder as all three were troubleshooting what could be wrong. The arm of the crane moved quickly upwards and the boom either made contact with or came into such close proximity to the overhead powerlines that the electricity was able to jump across.
The worker, who was standing on the right-hand side of the loader holding on to a steel rail, received a serious electric shock and fell unconscious.
The worker was in court yesterday with his wife and a WorkSafe inspector read his victim impact statement on his behalf.
In it, he outlined how his big toe and second toe were amputated as a result of the shock and he had minimal use of his right hand as there was no feeling in three of his fingers.
His arm is still heavily bandaged and is supported in a brace and his hand is in a permanent claw position.
He had surgery in June to try to straighten his hand and improve movement in his fingers but it is not yet known how successful the surgery would be, the worker said in his statement.
Following the incident, the worker spent just under two months in Waikato Hospital and has been unable to return to work. He has remained on full pay with Mike Harris Earthmoving Ltd topping up his ACC payments.
Harris had also paid the worker a lump sum of $20,000 in March in emotional harm reparation and had helped pay for the family's mortgage immediately after the incident, costing about $3500.
Judge Hollister-Jones said while the company was not entirely culpable, there were serious safety failures, mainly in not designating, communicating and allocating a safe area away from powerlines for the forwarder to be parked.
The maximum fine of the offence is $1.5 million. Judge Hollister-Jones' starting point was $400,000 which was reduced to $180,000 given mitigating factors.
However, Mike Harris Earthmoving Ltd's lawyer, Shima Grice, submitted the company would be forced to liquidate if it were forced to pay a large fine.
Judge Hollister-Jones said he sympathised with the company, which was also battling profit issues since the forestry fallout as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It is difficult to predict the likely return to profitability. Its work is starting to pick up but we are in uncertain times. I am aware of the financial challenges that apply to rural towns like Reporoa and the devastating impacts the company's failure would have on its 12 workers."
In sentencing the company, he ordered a fine of $100,000 be paid but repayments be deferred until March next year and be in monthly instalments over a three-year period. He also ordered it pay the worker a further $21,422 in emotional harm reparation and ordered it pay prosecution costs of $7263.