New Zealand Employer Ordered to Pay Workers Who Developed Muskuloskeletal Disorders

The employer for two Wellington industrial process workers has been ordered to pay $10,000 (U.S. $6,912) to each worker after failing to protect them from developing a muskuloskeletal disorder referred to by the New Zealand Department of Labour as "occupational overuse syndrome" (OOS).

The two men worked for Millard Manufacturing Ltd. for 13 and 15 years respectively, making badges, buttons, belt buckles and other small, cast-metal objects, according to the agency. Their work involved buffing and polishing the metal objects by holding them against vibrating finishing wheels. This work accounted for about 80 percent of their jobs.

One man was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and the other diagnosed with hand-arm vibration syndrome, leaving them both with a long-term disability, according to the New Zealand Department of Labour.

The Department of Labour prosecuted Millard Manufacturing and its director, Howard Millard, for failing to ensure the workers' safety at work.

Over the space of many years, both men repeatedly had complained to the company about their injuries, but the director refused to accept they were work-related, and their work remained largely unchanged until they both left the company in 2004, according to the agency.

Department of Labour Health and Safety Manager for Wellington Alan Cooper said the two men suffered serious injuries over many years and their concerns were never appropriately addressed by Millard.

Millard Manufacturing and Millard admitted to three charges of failing to take all practicable steps to put health and safety systems in place, and failing to ensure the safety of the workers, and were ordered to pay reparations of $20,000 (U.S. $13,824).

Cooper said the prosecution was significant because it was one of the first involving industrial process workers suffering from OOS in New Zealand.

"While there have been several prosecutions for gradual process injuries relating to data entry and computer/VDU use, this prosecution shows that OOS isn't something that only office workers suffer from," Cooper said. "This type of light industrial process work is common in New Zealand. It's very important that companies with workers carrying out repetitive, manual work have health and safety systems in place that take in to account health risks associated with the work."

Exchange rates are as of Dec. 19.

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