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No one should be killed at work

Kiwi Lumber. PHOTO/FILE

OPINION

GRANT HARDING
[email protected]

When I was a student, I had regular holiday work at a small meat factory which served a butcher’s shop and other outlets.

In the latter years of that employment, I would be put onto the hamburger patties machine.

The mix was done manually in a big plastic drum after the meat had gone through a large mincer. The drum would then be gradually emptied onto the metal tray at the top of the hamburger machine and pushed by my hand down a small hole.

After that, the theory was that 13 perfectly formed patties would land on each other, each divided by a paper sleeve before a conveyor belt would move them down for the next pile to begin.

The reality was it never worked. The paper would fly off, and meat would land on meat, which led to the machine being turned on and off.

So instead of it being a fully automated process, I began to put my hand under the guard and catch each patty, then place them in the pile. Each box took 6×13 plus two loose. In effect, I was part of that machine for whole summers and other university holidays.

A lapse in concentration could easily have led to injury.

That factory would never survive today’s Health and Safety regulations.

It makes my stomach turn when I think of an old truck driver, smoke hanging out of his mouth, one hand holding a rail while he kicked greasy, hard-to-move bones down an outside grinder a slip of the foot away.

A colleague lost a finger on a bandsaw which had no guard.

It’s a good thing that regulations have become far more stringent over time.

Today accidents are fully investigated by WorkSafe. The learnings become intellectual property. Employers are aware of their responsibilities, and risks are regularly identified and communicated to employees.

A lot of effort goes into trying to mitigate the possibility of death or maiming in the workplace.

Unfortunately, risks sometimes go unidentified or are ignored, and accidents still happen.

As you will have read on the Times-Age front page on Wednesday, a Masterton District Court judge has handed down a large fine to firm Kiwi Lumber, and ordered them to pay reparations to the family of Anita McRae who was tragically killed at the Waingawa plant in November 2018.

She suffered fatal chest injuries when she was pulled into machinery the sawmill used for grading and sorting timber.

WorkSafe’s investigation found when the worker accessed the machine to clear a fault, it restarted, and she was pulled into the machine’s sprockets.

WorkSafe’s chief inspector Steve Kelly said this tragic incident highlighted the need to ensure machinery was guarded.

“The worker shouldn’t have been able to access the machine so easily … Had appropriate guarding been in place, this woman might still be alive today.”

And that, not the money, is the most salient point.

Kiwi Lumber, who have already expressed regret and remorse, has moved quickly to improve safety around the machinery. Without a doubt, this death would have rocked the entire company, and they will have run the rule over all their processes.

Nobody deserves to get injured, let alone die at work.

The Times-Age offers its sincere condolences to the McRae family.

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