An employer must protect the health and safety of its workers, so far as reasonably practicable.

An employee died after the vehicle he was driving crashed while putting in place a safety measure that was the generally accepted industry wide practice. The employer, that had only purchased the business a few weeks prior, had identified the risk and was getting the employee to put in place the solution to prevent other employees from being injured. However it failed to effectively mitigate the risks in implementing the solution.

The employer has since developed innovative safety measures to prevent a further similar accident.

The employer took appropriate steps to reduce the financial stress upon those affected by the employee’s death. The employer paid voluntary reparations, co-operated with the Worksafe inspection, and pleaded guilty promptly.

While the employer had already paid voluntary reparations of $660,000, the Court imposed a fine of $378,000, further reparations of $350,000 and legal costs.

In this case the employer’s culpability was assessed as moderate despite having followed the accepted industry practice that all experts advised was what was done by all similar workplaces throughout New Zealand and Australia. Following industry practices will therefore not be enough to protect an employer from liability, despite decades of acceptance of the practices by the industry and regular inspections and audits by the government safety regulators that found no fault with the systems in place.

The hole in the system was not spotted by anyone in the industry over many years but that did not protect the employer from liability as the fix was easy to achieve and not expensive. It had just eluded everyone else in the industry.