When the DoL comes calling

Thursday November 29, 2012 09:20

Recent prosecutions by the DoL serve as a reminder that injury or harm are not prerequisites for prosecution under the Health & Safety in Employment Act.

While prosecutions without harm have traditionally been rare, numbers have increased steadily in recent years.  It is likely this trend will be reinforced after the Pike River Mine tragedy, and workplaces need to prime themselves for unannounced DoL inspections and audits.

Sleepyhead Manufacturing Company Limited was issued an improvement notice relating to an unsafe conveyor during a DoL inspection.  Despite promptly complying with the improvement notice and making the conveyor safe, Sleepyhead was prosecuted for failing to prevent its employees being exposed to the hazardous machine.

The judge commended the DoL for being proactive by taking prosecution action, despite there being no injury or harm, and emphasised that the HSE Act is intended to be preventative.  Sleepyhead was convicted and fined $40,000.

Another emerging trend is enforcement action against plant designers, manufacturers and suppliers.  The DoL is sending a message that manufacturers and plant designers’ obligations do not end upon the sale or installation of equipment.

The DoL prosecuted Realcold Milmech Limited after a meat worker broke his leg while using some of its equipment in a meat processing factory.  The department considered that there were a number of practical steps Realcold could have taken as a manufacturer, including a hazard assessment for the likely use of its machine, ensuring that dangerous aspects of the machine could not operate during maintenance and cleaning, and incorporating mechanisms to stop access to those areas while the machine was operating.  Realcold was fined $44,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $9,000 to the victim.

For all businesses, the message is clear.  The DoL is being proactive and vigilant.  Make sure the next business it teaches a lesson isn’t yours. From Safeguard  magazine.