Worker died after machine crushing accident

A Sydenham company must pay $72,000 for the death of a staff member who died of a heart attack after being crushed in machinery.

Sullivan Packaging Ltd was fined $52,000 and ordered to pay $20,000 as emotional and economic harm reparations to the family over the 2015 death of David Hughes.

Mr Hughes was found to have died of a heart attack after being crushed by an 80kg force by a machine at the plant, on September 30, 2015. He died in hospital the next day.

The company had admitted two breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act ahead of the sentencing by Judge Tom Gilbert in the Christchurch District Court.

The company had acknowledged failing to ensure machines had functional interlock guards to prevent access to moving parts.

Judge Gilbert said that after a hand-crushing accident in 2007 the Department of Labour had required locks on the machines to be operative and processes put in place, but when the other accident had taken place in 2015 they found the systems had been deliberately disabled. The company had found the interlocks were cutting out because of machine vibration.

Worksafe New Zealand prosecutor DeAnne Brabant said it was no defence to blame an employee when an employer had failed to discharge their duty to ensure safety. She called for penalties of not less than $100,000 – before adjustments – to be imposed on the charges.

Defence counsel Helen Bennett said that the company had now spent more than $40,000 addressing the issues with interlocking devices to ensure safety on the machines and make sure they were in line with industry standards. She submitted that the failings by Sullivan Packaging had not fallen significantly below industry standards.

She told Judge Gilbert that Mr Hughes had been at the company for more than 10 years and “was considered family by the company”.

Mr Hughes arrived at work on the day of the accident coughing and looking unwell. When he did some maintenance on the machine, he failed to put one of two safety thumbscrews in place and a platen inexplicably descended, crushing his chest with 80kg of pressure.

He was taken out of the machine by three co-workers and revived by ambulance officers but died in hospital the next day. He had bruising and abrasions on his chest, and broken ribs probably caused by resuscitation. An autopsy found he had significant pre-existing heart disease and was at risk of a coronary event at any time.

The defence had suggested that Mr Hughes could have had a coronary event and fallen into the machine.

Judge Gilbert said he could not be sure that the accident had caused the heart attack.

But he noted that the company had disabled the interlocks on the machines, creating an obvious hazard.


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