21 Apr 2016

Second AFFCO worker impaled by hook

9:57 pm on 21 April 2016

The meat company that has been fined thousands of dollars after a worker was impaled on a hook is being investigated for a similar case.

Affco has been fined $30,000 and ordered to pay cleaner Jason Matahiki $25,000 in reparations after a hook went in below his left ear and came out below his left eye, puncturing two major muscles.

The incident happened in August 2014, but WorkSafe documents obtained by RNZ News show it was investigating a similar incident in January.

The latest case occurred in the plant's mutton slaughter chain as a man bent under the chain to make a cut on a front hock.

The man was caught by a moving hook and his head was caught by a hock clamp before he was pulled along the chain for half a metre and the side of his head was crushed.

Meat Workers Union director of organising Darien Fenton said while the worker was involved in a different process, it showed "a cavalier attitude to health and safety."

"I think it shows that the company hasn't actually taken this kind of thing that seriously. This is a German worker here on a holiday visa. As I understand he'd been on the job three weeks and was put onto the chain without proper training and it seems he had a horrific accident.

In a statement, AFFCO general manager Andy Leonard said the incident involving Mr Matahiki was "extremely unfortunate" and the company would "continue to actively promote a safe working environment for all its staff."

AFFCO initially declined to comment when approached by RNZ News about the January accident.

In a statement later on Thursday, it said company investigations "concluded that the worker involved was fully trained and deemed competent in the task he was undertaking".

It said the worker made an error of judgment, which resulted in relatively minor injuries.

"The worker was treated, discharged that day and returned to full duties eight days later."

Impaled AFFCO worker 'scarred for life'

A worker at the Rangiuru plant, who asked not to be named, said Mr Matahiki still had nightmares nearly two years on from the horrific accident.

"I don't think any amount of money could take away the fear and the emotional impact that it's had on Jason.

"Whether it was one dollar or a million dollars, it would never take away the emotional impact. He's been scarred for life."

His injuries have been life-changing, with Mr Matahiki now suffering ongoing headaches and pain moving his jaw.

But his colleague said while preventing accidents was nearly impossible, AFFCO hadn't ensured new employees were aware of the risk.

"The workers still believe that the potentiality of these sorts of accidents are still going to happen and the company needs to take a very serious practice of monitoring areas that have a very serious potential of causing serious harm."

He said it was important new employees were made aware of the risks and given the proper training.

"The ones who have come into the industry within the last two years lack that understanding, lack that experience. They have skills to do a job but they lack the experience of knowing what potential risks that they could be putting themselves into.

"That's something the company I believe hasn't taken on board - at the beginning of any employment of anybody is the potential risks of being hurt on the line. The company needs to look at it very seriously I believe."

WorkSafe said the company should have made sure the mutton chain was not operating when the night crew was cleaning up and that any trapping points along the line were managed.

It said they could have ensured there was a robust lockout process in place and that staff were up to date in their training on the processes.

WorkSafe chief inspector Keith Stewart said AFFCO should have ensured processes were stuck to.

"The judge clearly stated out that one of the important things here was that the organisation wasn't systematically managing this. I would very much hope that AFFCO have taken that on board and have learnt from the lesson.

"One of the key things around an investigation and around an accident like this is you do take learners from it to prevent it from happening again."

AFFCO said it had since tightened up its access to the chain areas and the chain no longer moved during cleaning.

But the Rangiuru worker said while new processes had been put it place, it was not enough.

"Have they taken it onboard? Well only time's going to tell. But it's been nearly two years now and a similar accident has happened in the last four or five months."

AFFCO said late on Thursday that its ACC claim figures were better than the industry average, and its injury statistics had reduced in the last two years in relation to processing volumes.