A Whanganui man will receive $50,000 in reparation for a life 'blighted' by an incident that happened when he worked in Affco's Imlay rendering plant in 2015.

Affco was sentenced on one charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of an employee in Whanganui District Court on Wednesday.

The case was brought to court by Worksafe.

Judge AA Couch fined the company $46,000, and ordered it to pay worker Brian Wright $54,000 in emotional reparation and for lost earnings.

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Wright was working in Imlay's rendering plant on June 13, 2015 when a screen broke and about 10 tonnes of animal remains spilled out onto the floor. He and others used shovels and a forklift to move them.

The risk of catching diseases from animal material is listed in Affco's own hazard register.

It says the protective gear that should be worn includes safety glasses and a face shield but Wright was not supplied with them.

During the clean-up process his shovel hit something soft and fluid squirted into one of his eyes.

He washed the eye and went home, but by next day he had "aches and pains".

It got worse, to the point where he was "as close to death as a person can get without actually dying".

On July 12 he was admitted to Wellington Hospital for emergency heart surgery.

Streptococcus bacteria from the animal remains, a type not carried by humans, had infected his heart. The surgery to replace two of its valves saved his life.

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He returned to Affco in October that year, to work on the slaughter floor.

But the new heart valves constrict his blood flow, and he easily became short of breath and dizzy.

He left Affco and now has work that he prefers.

But the incident, which happened when he was an active 43-year-old, will affect the rest of his life. He can no longer play rugby or football, or run, or swim.

The infection is dormant in his body and could return if his immune system is compromised. He has to take medicine and steer clear of infection and his personal relationships have been affected.

Judge Couch said it was impossible to measure emotional harm in money but the incident cost Wright much of the enjoyment of life for more than half his adult years.

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The rendering plant at Affco Imlay was upgraded in 2015 and processes 250 tonnes of animal remains a day in peak season. Photo / Bevan Conley
The rendering plant at Affco Imlay was upgraded in 2015 and processes 250 tonnes of animal remains a day in peak season. Photo / Bevan Conley

He considered $50,000 was the appropriate amount of reparation with an additional $4000 for loss of earnings and ongoing medication expenses.

Affco was to blame for not supplying the needed protection and for not ensuring that staff in the plant wore it, Judge Couch said.

Its counsel, Jonathan Eaton QC, argued the specific risk of an injury such as Wright's was unknown.

But Judge Couch said Affco knew the general risk from animal diseases and knew splashes were a regular occurrence in the rendering plant.

"The hazard was well known and obvious. Equally obvious was the means to reduce the risk of harm from the hazard."

Since the incident wearing the protective gear has been enforced, and Affco did co-operate with Worksafe during the investigation. It also undertook a restorative justice session with Wright, but not until five years after the incident.

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Judge Couch said this could not be called an expression of remorse. He also rejected Eaton's suggestion that pleading guilty before a trial was held should reduce the company's fine by 20 per cent.

Affco had initially pleaded not guilty and a trial date had been set for December 2017. It only pleaded guilty - to neglecting one of the four possible practicable steps to ensure Wright's safety - in December last year after what Judge Couch said was "a lengthy and concerted effort to have the prosecution dismissed".

Its previous history also counted against it, with convictions for related offending in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2016.