The District Court has ordered an employer to pay over $350,000 after they breached their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

An employee was operating machinery and reached his hand under a safety guard to clear debris instead of using a nearby pressure hose. While he was doing this, he accidentally activated a foot pedal, causing the machine to come down and seriously injure his hand.

The employee was hospitalised for two weeks after undergoing surgery.  

The Court held that the employer had breached their health and safety obligations at a medium culpability level.

The employer made some modifications to the machine, including changes which enabled people to use the machine from both sides. These modifications made the machine less safe to use. It was also found that the foot pedal should have had a cover, which would prevented it from accidentally being activated.

The machine did not require a “two handle hold”, which increased the risk of accidental activation. The safety guard on the machine was also inadequate, and the employer had not consulted any qualified person before making these unsafe modifications.

The Court found that the employer was aware that the machine did not meet safety standards, even before the modifications were made, and should have realised the hazard it created.

Ensuring that the machine met health and safety standards would have been relatively easy and of low cost to the employer.

The Court set the starting point of the fine at $450,000, but after accounting for mitigating factors such as steps taken to resolve the breach and compliance with WorkSafe’s investigation, decided to reduce it to $283,500.

The employer was also ordered to pay $50,000 in reparation to the employee for the emotional harm he suffered from the incident as well as $10,000 for consequential loss, and a further $7,500 for costs.

There are important health and safety duties which must be followed by employers. If you are confused about these, it pays to seek advice from a professional in the area.


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Alan Knowsley and Hunter Flanagan-Connors