The District Court has sentenced a company to pay a fine of $200,000 after a health and safety breach that led to an employee’s thumb being cut off.

The employee was conducting their cleaning duties for the company, when she went to replace a bucket under an operating blade. The employee’s hand got stuck between an opening latch and the rotating blade causing her thumb to be severed.

The Court accepted that the cleaning procedure was a known risk to the employer.

The Court ordered the employer to pay $30,000 for emotional harm. It was clear that the employee faced significant ongoing difficulties due to the injury, including not being able to perform day to day tasks. Further, the employee faced uncertainty about future career opportunities due to the injury.

The starting point for the fine was set at $400,000. This reflects the medium culpability of the health and safety breach. The Court held that there were some health and safety procedures in place, including daily inspections by the company’s manager and reports to their health and safety committee.

The open latch had not been identified as a hazard itself, and therefore no steps had been taken to mitigate the risk associated with it. The risk of serious physical injury was present, and that risk was realised in this case.

The Court accepted that there were some mitigating factors, which subsequently lowered the fine to $200,000. These factors included co-operation, remorse, and the employer’s early guilty plea.

The employer has since rectified the risk and covered the latch with a lock. They have also gone further to implement procedures to mitigate other health and safety risks, such as discussions with workers about risks in the workplace that would have been otherwise unknown to management.

There are important health and safety measures which must be implemented by employers in the workplace. If you are confused about these requirements, it pays to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.


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Alan Knowsley and Hunter Flanagan-Connors