Richard Williams/Alexa Mihailoff

The High Court has upheld the decision of the District Court imposing $40,000 in fines on a Nelson sawmilling company despite the injured employee acknowledging that the accident giving rise to the prosecution was his fault.

The employee in question had worked for the employer (a sawmill) for seven years and was instrumental in developing the businesses’ health and safety policy.  In November 2013 (rather foolishly in the writer’s view), the employee decided to undertake some maintenance on the wood eye scanner, conveyer system and saw while the machine was still on!  The employee subsequently acknowledged that this was a breach of the businesses’ health and safety procedures and was a deliberate decision on his part. 

Unfortunately for the employee, the rag he was using to clean the machine got caught up and dragged (along with the unfortunate employee’s hand) into the machine.

The sawmill was prosecuted by WorkSafe for “for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of Mr Rolfe while at work”.

The Court said that “the fact that [the employee]…contributed to his injuries did not in itself negate the obligation on [the sawmill] to take all practicable steps to ensure [the employee] and other employees were not exposed to hazards in the workplace.”  What mattered was whether the machine in question was a potential hazard and whether it was reasonably foreseeable that an employee may take the risk of maintaining it while it was still on.

In light of this year’s new Health and Safety at Work Act, this sobering judgement is yet another reminder to employers to make sure they are fully aware of their obligations under the Act.   

For further advice and/or assistance, please contact us.