Donovan Group has been fined $220,000 after a worker lost part of a finger in an accident.
Photo / Tania Whyte
By Imran Ali
Losing most of the strength in an arm during a workplace accident hasn’t stopped a Northland man from using a drone to fulfil his unbridled passion for fishing off the rocks.
top of the experienced machine operator’s left index finger had to be amputated and he lost 30 per cent of his nail bed on the middle index finger while working at Donovan Group NZ Limited in Whangārei.
The company admitted in the Whangarei District Court it breached the Health and Safety at Work Act in a prosecution brought by WorkSafe and was this week fined $220,000.
Judge John McDonald ordered the company to pay the injured worker $31,000 in emotional harm reparation and a regulator’s cost of $3873 to WorkSafe.
Donovan Group did not wish to comment about the case after sentencing.
The worker, who did not want to be identified, came to New Zealand in late 2008 on a special work visa to work as a machine operator.
“I used to fish every weekend but can’t do that off the rocks anymore because of loss of strength in my left hand so I bought a drone and fish off the drone. There’s some good snapper around,” the father of two said.
He has since left Donovan and recently found similar work at another company in Whangārei.
The worker can not lift any weight over 20kg and gets tired easily.
The accident has changed his life forever and believes he won’t be able to regain the full strength in his left hand, despite rehabilitation and physiotherapy.
“I can’t undo what has happened. Every day is a new challenge for me but I think positive no matter what the situation. There’s no point in dwelling too much at what happened.”
In his victim impact statement, the worker said he could now only watch rather than play cricket due to the damage to his left hand.
“When he came to New Zealand, he learnt how to fish. Something him and his family did together. That is now difficult because of loss of grip. He’s frustrated his wife has to do more work around the house because he can’t anymore,” Judge McDonald said.
Donovan is in the business of custom design and build of large-scale steel commercial buildings nationwide.
The injured worker was employed as a machine operator and welder and was operating the Amada hydraulic-powered press brake that presses and bends metal sheets.
There was no guarding on the front of the machine at the time of the incident.
On June 16 last year while working on the Amada, the worker became off balance due to the size and weight of a bracket he was making and his hand slipped into the machine and injured his fingers.
He was taken to the Whangārei Hospital and then flown to Middlemore Hospital in Auckland where he underwent surgery. He was off work for seven months and underwent hand therapy to help with his recovery.
WorkSafe engaged Scott Jackson of RJ Nelligan and Associates to provide an expert opinion on the guarding of the Amada.
Jackson outlined a number of guarding options and the likely costs.
He said it was possible to install physical guarding and a light curtain safeguarding device to the machine.
The injured worker told WorkSafe he was not taken through the risk assessment document for Amada and did not have an operator’s manual for the machine on the date of the incident.
“A readily foreseeable consequence of exposure to moving parts of the Amada press brake is a serious injury,” WorkSafe told the court.
WorkSafe lawyer Karina Sagaga said Donovan Group’s culpability was assessed as medium and the appropriate starting point for a fine would be $450,000.
In his submission, Donovan Group’s lawyer Brett Harris said the Amada has since been decommissioned and the company was extremely upset a worker was injured.
The company, he said, did everything in its powers to help the injured employee and his family and kept a spot for him to return to work.
Donovan Group has never appeared in court on a matter such as this, its early guilty plea and its effort in having external people come in and undertake all machine guarding exercises were factors the court could take into account, he submitted.
After the sentencing, WorkSafe area investigation manager Danielle Henry urged vigilance on the risks of exposed machinery.
There was an assumption the standard operating procedures were for the safety supervisor to be familiar with, Henry said.
“This is yet another instance where the courts have clearly said it’s not acceptable to expose workers to risk of harm from unguarded machinery. There have been dozens of prosecutions for similar events.
“The solutions are available and effective, so there are no excuses. Clear guidance, standards, and options for machine guarding have existed for many years, and the wider manufacturing industry needs to do better.”