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‘Significant failing’ causes death

Emergency services at the scene of the 2018 workplace death at Kiwi Lumber. PHOTO/FILE

Family tragedy continues long after workplace death

The McRae family didn’t just lose one family member when Anita McRae was killed in a workplace accident at Kiwi Lumber Masterton Ltd [Kiwi Lumber] in November 2018, Masterton District Court was told on Tuesday.

One of her sons took his life in the months after the 36-year-old’s death as a result of the trauma.

McRae was a sawmill operator who had been with the company since January 2017.

Most of this work involved driving a forklift and working in the bin sorting area where different types of timber are graded and sorted – this also included clearing faults on the conveyor belt which fed the logs into the bin sorting area.

On the morning of November 9 in 2018, 15 faults were logged over two hours.

McRae climbed on to the conveyor walkway and walked along it to find the fault.

While she was still there, the machine started again, and she was knocked down by a piece of timber into the machine.

A fellow worker radioed to other members for someone to stop the plant when they saw she was entangled in the machine.

Emergency services were called to the scene where she was pronounced dead.

WorkSafe was notified and an investigation followed which led to the company being charged with breaching health and safety at work.

While there were some procedures in place, such as the lockout system whereby employees carried a ‘key’ to turn off equipment where they were working, WorkSafe prosecutor Natasha Szeto told the court this was the lowest from of risk mitigation.

She said not having a guard system was a deviation of the industry standard and “significant failing” which put Kiwi Lumber in the high culpability category.

There were several instances were McRae had failed to follow these procedures and she had received a warning before the accident.

“What really puts this into high culpability is the obviousness of the hazard,” Szeto said.

“The bin sorter is a large and complex machine.

“There was a significant departure from industry standards for the machine to be allowed to operate at that standard.”

Judge Barbara Morris said there was “nothing this court can do that will in any way compensate that grief or loss”, and would issue a written decision shortly regarding the company’s fine and emotional harm and loss of potential income reparations to be paid by Kiwi Lumber to Anita’s husband and stepchildren, as well as her parents and two sons.

Kiwi Lumber’s defence lawyer said it was not a case of the company assessing the risk and choosing the lowest form of control.

“[It] had relied on the lockout system which had worked for many years.”

It was working on a review of its operations and procedures at the time of the accident but had not got to the bin sorting machine area.

She said Kiwi Lumber had made several changes including putting in a guard system which meant the plant would not restart until a worker was “safely back behind the gate”.

She acknowledged McRae’s family as well as the company representatives who were in court, reiterating the company’s regret and remorse, also formally apologising on their behalf.

Wearing shirts with pictures of McRae and two children who had also died, her parents and son Dane had their victim impact statements read out on their behalf.

“I’ve lost two family members in something which could have so easily been prevented,” he said.

McRae’s mother Paddy Norman said their family had suffered its share of tragedy.

“Anita’s death has caused us more pain, but I know they are all together now.”

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