The District Court has convicted an employer after one of its workers was injured by a sawmilling machine.  The employer operated a machine which jointed, glued and cut wood from which defects in the wood had previously been removed.

The moving saw blade was of course an obvious hazard which had been identified by the employer and interlock devices put in place along with fencing around the machine.  The interlock devices and fences were designed to keep the employees clear of the rotating saw blade, so they could not be injured by it. 

Unfortunately there was a flaw in the safety measures put in place.  Once the safety fences were opened the interlock devices stopped the saw from operating, but the process failed to take into account that it took eight seconds for the saw to fully stop, after the interlock device became engaged.  That eight seconds was sufficient time for an employee to enter the area where the saw was and to place his hand into contact with the saw.  His glove was caught on the saw and he suffered lacerations to three fingers.  Luckily the saw was in the process of slowing down, otherwise his injuries could have been much worse.  The employee required surgery to the injured fingers.

The District Court found that the employer’s culpability was in the mid-range, which meant a starting point for the fine of $350,000.  That starting point was increased to $420,000, because of a recent incident in similar nature, but after deductions for an early guilty plea, remorse and actions taken to fix the machine since the incident, the fine was reduced to $267,000 plus reparation to the employee of $7,000.  The employer was also ordered to pay the costs of the prosecution.

The District Court held that although the employer had engaged outside experts to advise on the safety procedures put in place, he was still responsible for the flaw in the procedures, being the eight second delay of the slowdown of the saw.  Systems were available which eliminated that issue and they should have been put in place before the accident.

Alan Knowsley
Health & Safety Lawyer