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New Zealand: Company Ordered to Pay Reparation to Worker's Family

Carter Holt Harvey Ltd. has been ordered to pay $100,000 (U.S. $65,966) to the family of a worker who was killed when he fell through PVC roofing last year.

CHH Ltd. pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to take all feasible steps to protect the man and was convicted in the Tokoroa District Court in January. The court fined the company $30,000 ($U.S. $19,789) in addition to the $100,000 in reparations. The company already had made $90,000 (U.S. $59,369) in payments to the worker's family.

This marks the second-highest reparation order made under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. Sealord last year was ordered to pay $195,000 (U.S. $128,634) to the family of a man killed on the fishing boat Aoraki.

No Guardrail System or Walkway in Place

The accident happened at the CHH Tokoroa plant on Feb. 22, 2005. The man was helping another worker clear a roof duct that had been blocked by sawdust. As he walked across the lower roof of the building he fell through some PVC sheeting to the floor below, a fall of almost 10 meters.

Sentencing Judge J.J. Weir agreed with the New Zealand Department of Labor that the hazard the worker was exposed to was significant. The roof was easily accessible, and there was no guardrail system or designated walkway in place.

Mike Cosman, chief advisor, health and safety, for the New Zealand Department of Labor, said this was the second of three prosecutions recently launched by the agency involving falls from height through brittle roofing.

Earlier this year, Ashburton seed processing company South Island Seed Dressing and Storage Co. Ltd. was ordered to pay $60,000 (U.S. $39,579) to the widow of a maintenance worker killed when he fell 6.5 meters through a skylight last August. And four Tauranga companies face numerous charges after a worker fell 7 meters to his death through a skylight, also last August.

'Falls From Heights Maim and Kill'

Cosman said the lessons learned from these tragic workplace accidents are simple.

"Falls from heights maim and kill," Cosman said. "Roofing materials such as PVC, asbestos or glazing will generally not take a person's weight and can often be hard to distinguish from other, more robust materials especially when obscured by dust and dirt."

Employers need to properly assess all tasks that involve work at height and ensure that appropriate precautions are taken, Cosman added.

"Often this can be as simple as roping off or covering the fragile materials or providing designated safe walkways," Cosman noted. " It's not rocket science. People have been getting killed this way for years, yet we don't seem to have learnt the lessons. The department will continue to take a firm line where there is a clear disregard for these basic precautions."

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