Workplace accident results in $280,000 fine after hand caught in meat cutter, Hastings man’s sporting dreams dashed
HomeHome > News > Workplace accident results in $280,000 fine after hand caught in meat cutter, Hastings man’s sporting dreams dashed

Workplace accident results in $280,000 fine after hand caught in meat cutter, Hastings man’s sporting dreams dashed

May 27, 2023

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WorkSafe took the prosecution against Progressive Meats in Hastings. Photo / Paul Taylor

A Hastings company has been fined $280,000 after a workplace accident which ended a young worker's hopes of a sporting career overseas.

Progressive Meats will also have to pay Alesana Baker a total of $48,000 for the consequential loss and emotional harm after his right hand was severely injured by a brisket cutter at the company's works on October 15, 2020.

At the time, Baker was 17 years old and had just left school. The top joint of his right thumb had to be amputated.

In a victim impact statement read to the Hastings District Court by a supporter, Baker said he had played volleyball throughout high school.

He had secured a scholarship to play university volleyball in the United States, and was injured four weeks before he was due to fly out to Los Angeles.

"I had that dream for so long and felt it was snatched away from me," the statement said.

"It is so frustrating to have a hand that no longer works properly, especially as I am only 20 years old."

He had also applied to join the army since being injured but was turned down, unless he underwent further rehabilitation on his hand.

The brisket cutter was like a very large mechanical pair of shears, cutting through bone and flesh of a lamb carcass.

Baker was using it one-handed when it cut into his thumb and three fingers of his right hand. It was designed to be used two-handed.

A plastic surgeon at Waikato Hospital later successfully repaired tendons, nerves and arteries supplying the fingers but the thumb tip could not be saved.

The regulatory agency WorkSafe NZ charged Progressive Meats with failing to comply with a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

But its prosecution failed in two of the three particulars under which it laid its charge.

The charge alleged that Progressive Meats failed to provide and maintain adequate systems and processes to identify and manage hazards.

It also alleged that it failed to ensure the brisket cutter was safe to use, and that the two-handed controls could not be bypassed.

After a five-day trial last December, Judge Geoff Rea rejected both those grounds.

However, he convicted Progressive Meats on the third ground - that it had not ensured adequate instruction, monitoring and supervision of workers.

At the sentencing hearing on Thursday, Judge Rea said he was satisfied that the company, which had no previous convictions, had comprehensive safety and training systems, and was driven by the need to maintain safe procedures in all areas.

However, he said that the system of training "broke down as the result of human error" and the legislation was designed to catch situations such as that.

"In this case, the evidence was that [the safety systems] came unstuck as far as Mr Baker's training on the brisket cutter was concerned," Judge Rea said.

"Human frailty stuffed up the safety system."

Evidence before the trial was that Baker was trained in the use of the brisket cutter by a co-worker who started work with the company on the same day he did, but had moved to the lamb slaughter floor earlier than him.

The company had since removed the cutter, done "significant tests" on it and obtained a replacement. When they found the new machine could also have its safety features bypassed, they had it modified so this did not occur.

Outside the court, Baker said that it was "challenging" to sit in the court, and he was having flashbacks to the incident, but he got the result that he wanted.

Asked if he had managed to return to volleyball, he said he was "thinking of it", but this was still on hold as his hand was still not fully functional.

But he said he was still doing rehabilitation and intended to continue with his application to join the army.

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