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Safe systems save lives

1 September 2021

A tragic workplace fatality in the Bay of Plenty serves as a reminder for businesses that effective standard operating systems in workplaces are key to making sure employees stay healthy and safe at work.

These systems must be documented, implemented, communicated, and monitored to ensure they are effective, says WorkSafe New Zealand.

In March 2019, an employee at Pukepine Sawmills Limited died while assisting the unloading of dried lumber from one of the sawmill’s kiln. He was hooking up a tow chain to the trolleys of dry wood with the intention of shifting it out of the kiln to make room for a fresh load of wood to enter.

Another employee, unaware that the victim was unloading the trolleys, used a forklift to push the fresh wood trolleys into the kiln, attempting to eject the dry wood trolleys from the opposite side of the building.

The victim was crushed between the trolleys and the rear of the loader he had reversed up to the kiln.

A WorkSafe investigation found a number of issues in the business’ procedures.

Pukepine Sawmills had an inadequate communication system when workers were loading/unloading the kilns, relying on employees to use their mobile phones and hand signals.

Similarly, while the business was in the process of developing a traffic management system, there was no system in place at the time of the incident to keep vehicles and pedestrians separate.

There was also no internal monitoring to ensure that employees were aware of the businesses safe operating procedures.

The business had no documented exclusion zones and no monitoring system in place to signal that the kiln was being loaded or unloaded.

“This is another preventable tragedy that could have easily been avoided with well-documented health and safety practice and effective communication of these practices. Because of an unsafe workplace, a father needlessly lost their life and will never return home to be with his friends and whānau,” said Area Investigation Manager Paul West.

Notes
  • Pukepine Sawmills (1998) Limited appeared in the Tauranga District Court on Tuesday 10 August.
  • A fine of $212,625 was imposed.
  • Reparation of $110,000 was ordered as well as $95,561.15 in consequential loss.
  • Pukepine Sawmills (1998) Limited was sentenced under sections 36(l)(a), s 48(1) and (2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
    • Being a PCBU, having a duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who work for the PCBU while the workers are at work in the business loading/unloading kilns, did fail to comply with that duty and that failure exposed individuals, including the victim, to a risk of death or serious injury.
  •  S 48(2)(c) carries a maximum penalty of $1,500,000.

Source: Worksafe NZ

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