North Island Mussels fined $150K for hand crushing

North Island Mussels Limited has been fined $150,000 and ordered to pay $31,000 in reparation after an 18-year-old crew member’s hand was crushed in a pulley on mussel farming vessel Waikawau on 9 January 2019 off the Coromandel Peninsula.

Michael-Paul Abbott, Maritime NZ’s Compliance Manager – Central Region, said the fine reflects the severity of the incident and its life-long impact on the crew member, who needed multiple skin grafts and the partial amputation of a finger.

Maritime NZ’s investigation found the vessel’s owners, North Island Mussels, failed to fulfil its duties to protect its workers. In December 2019, charges were filed in the Tauranga District Court under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

Mr Abbott said the company knew the pulley was an issue as it had frequently jammed.

On the day the incident occurred, the hook had already jammed twice and had to be freed. At approximately 4.15 pm the pulley jammed for a third time.

The crew member climbed the gantry – the crane supporting the pulley – to attempt to free the hook. As he climbed, his foot touched the lever controlling the pulley, causing it to move and crush his four fingers. His foot again brushed the lever causing his hand to be further crushed by the pulley.

Mr Abbott said the incident had severe consequences for the crew member. The victim suffered severe cuts to the fingers on his right hand, three of which were also fractured. He also required a skin graft and his right little finger had to be amputated at the joint. He has had to undertake several surgeries to date and undergo hand rehabilitation therapy for several months.

There were many actions North Island Mussels could have taken to prevent harm, Abbott said.

Some of North Island Mussels’ fleet had stopper guards to prevent pulleys getting stuck. However, they were not installed on the Waikawau at the time of the incident. Further, staff could have been prevented from reaching the pinch point of the gantry pulley, which put them at risk. The company also didn’t have any formal training for the safe removal of jammed hooks.

“We encourage all businesses to proactively protect their workers from harm.” Mr Abbott said.

“Involve your staff in health and safety decisions and discussions. Train them well. Make safety part of your culture – encourage them to report workplace dangers. If you know something’s an issue, don’t walk past it – fix it!

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