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Case Summary

When to implement safety recommendations following an audit

WorkSafe NZ v Pakiri Logging Ltd & Ernslaw One Ltd

It is common to assume as an employer, that you can always deal with safety problems later. However, audit reports identifying high serious injury/fatality risks must be acted on immediately as any delay can be potentially dangerous and costly.

Nina Hoang
Published:

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Million dollar mistake: Employer acts too late on safety advice

In the case of WorkSafe NZ v Pakiri Logging Ltd & Ernslaw One Ltd, Pakiri Logging’s worker was struck by a moving log when he was attaching cables to felled trees. Industry guidelines maintained a minimum distance of 45 was safe however, the worker was working within 20 metres of the skyline cable lifting logs out of the valley.

Both companies (the employer and the principal contractor) had completed safety risk audits two months before the incident indicating that the exclusion zone risks were well known to them. Whether it was an audit outcome, hazard identification, or a near miss, they had a responsibility to act immediately.

There was clear evidence that neither company had done everything reasonably practicable and by failing to take action, they allowed the incident to occur. Both the employer and principal contractor were charged with serious breaches of safety and the following fines were issued:

  • Pakari Logging to pay NZ$468,000 (AU$441,610);
  • Ernslaw to pay NZ$288,000 (AU$271,760); and
  • Both companies to pay NZ$238,000 (AU$224,579) to the family of the deceased worker.

New Zealand’s (NZ) Health and Safety at Work Act 2015  is similar to the model safety legislation in Australia. Had this case arisen in Victoria, New South Wales, or Queensland the officers would have been charged and it would be likely that the supervisor would have been charged with Reckless Endangerment.

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Lessons for Employers

  • As soon as you become aware of a risk, take steps to mitigate or eliminate the risks – particularly serious risks.
  • Undertake regular safety audits (both detailed ones by safety experts, and regular ones such as JSAs and SWMS) so workers are aware of risks at all times.
  • Develop an implementation strategy based on the risk of each hazard.
  • Be aware of industry guidelines on safe work practices and ensure you comply with them.

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Managing Principal - Victoria

Principal Lawyer and Head of Workplace