The first sentencing under the HSAW Act 2015. What did we learn?
By Andreas Gabriel, Dip OHS – Worksafe Smart, Health and Safety Consultant for the Nelson, Richmond and Blenheim region. Health and Safety policies, manuals, management plans, training, reviews, audits, advice and more.
The 22nd of August saw the first sentencing under the 2015 Health and Safety at Work Act. A Palmerston North plastic recycling and manufacturing company was fined $ 100,000 and ordered to pay $ 37,500 in reparations to a worker who lost four fingers when his hand was dragged into a machine. An issue with the guarding of the machine had been identified 6 weeks prior to the incident, though nothing was done to fix the issue or to isolate the machine.
This was a clear breach of section 36(1) of the HSAW Act: ‘A PCBU must ensure, so far as reasonable practicable, the health and safety of workers who work for the PCBU, while the workers are at work for the business or undertaking; …’. “The failure of the Budget Plastics Ltd to take action to this known risk left their employee with a life-long injury. Sadly, it could have been avoided by acting quickly and guarding the machine properly,” said Brent Murray, WorkSafe General Manager Operations and Specialist Services. The maximum penalty under the 2015 HSAW Act is a fine not exceeding $1,500,000, five times as high than under the old legislation. Under the old Health and Safety in Employment Act fines for machine guarding cases ranged from $30,000 to $40,000 on average, though in this case WorkSafe NZ suggested that a starting point of $900,000 was appropriate. The judge set the fine in the range of $275,000 (based on mitigating factors) but reduced it to a final fine of $100,000 based on the company’s ability to pay.
This is a clear indication that based on drastically increased maximum penalties for breaches of the new Health and Safety legislation, judges will hand out hefty fines if businesses do not take immediate action to manage known risks. Fair enough, there are lives at stake!