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Don’t be scared of WorkSafe

Published 20 Sep 2020

The latest PR exercise from WorkSafe NZ encourages businesses not to be scared of WorkSafe and to fully engage with assistance offered from them.

They cite an example from a Masterton based printing firm where an experienced staff member cut their finger when clearing out a machine waste gate during a busy shift. The employer found out the next day that the hospital had to amputate the end of the employee's finger and as such immediately reported it to WorkSafe.

WorkSafe consequently investigated this and decided that a Duty Holder Review (DHR) was to be undertaken.

A DHR is where WorkSafe will ask a business to do a self review of policy & procedures after an incident has occured. It is usually after a serious harm incident but falls short of the prosecution threshold. The aim of course is to stop an incident of a similar nature from happening again. The intention is not as a punitive measure but preventative for the future. A Duty Holder Review Officer (DHRO) from WorkSafe may work with the business to assist in the process but at a minimum will certainly review and oversee the DHR. They do of course have the enforcement authority. Not engaging with a directive like this from WorkSafe is not wise and from their website: "non-involvement will be noted on your file and it will be taken into account when making decisions regarding future workplace assessment visits."

A workplace incident resulting in harm to a worker should be investigated internally in all instances anyway. A DHR is simply WorkSafe asking the business to do so in an official way.

We agree, you shouldn't be scared of WorkSafe, they provide a lot of resources and support for industry with the intention of keeping our people safe in all respects. We need to do this. They are also however, the police, when it comes to workplace accidents and enforcement is their mandate, and although a Crown entity they do need funding.

In the last three years alone enforcement actions (non prosecutions) have quadrupled. In August 2019 WorkSafe's statistics show 1264 actions for the month, compared with 336 for the same period in 2016.

Severity of prosecutions have of course also increased.

  • Hellars meat manufacturer in Christchurch recently prosecuted for a worker losing 4 fingers in a processing machine - more than $250,000.
  • Otago Polytechnic agreed to an enforceable undertaking with a minimum spend of $275,000 on health and safety measures and initiatives after a student partially amputated a finger on a saw.
  • Canterbury Concrete Cutting NZ Limited was also fined over $250,000 when a worker lost 3 fingers at work in Christchurch
  • Alliance Group was sentenced at Invercargill District Court on Thursday and fined $331,875 for a worker who lost the tips of their fingers.
  • Oriental Cuisine Limited in Wellington - $260,000 for serious hand injuries from a pastry rolling machine.

It's not necessarily that the South Island is over represented in these statistics, but the common theme is machine guarding seemingly the major cause of serious workplace injuries and the Courts taking a very dim view on such incidents.

But in terms of a DHR, if you receive such a request letter from WorkSafe, don't be scared, you are probably already past the risk of major prosecution enforcement, of which the penalties can be severe.