Employer fined $250,000 for health and safety failures

Employee buried in dirt after trench collapse at farm site

Employer fined $250,000 for health and safety failures

A company in Waikato has been fined $275,000 after an employee sustained multiple injuries during an excavation at a farm in February 2021.

The employee, hired by R&L Drainage Limited, suffered a collapsed lung, as well as a broken rib cage, sternum, and collarbone after one of the side walls of the trench that he was working on collapsed.

WorkSafe said "only the top of his head was left visible" after being engulfed with dirt, with the rescuer needing to use his hands to clear the dirt away so the victim could breathe.

In addition to these injuries, the employee is also now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the incident.

Paul West, WorkSafe's area investigation manager, described the situation as "a death trap."

"There's a right way and a wrong way to do excavations – and cutting vertical sides to three metres deep then sending a worker in is certainly not the way," West said in a media release.

WorkSafe probe

Investigation from the safety watchdog revealed a series of lapses on employee training, among other things, over the incident.

According to WorkSafe, the employer did not provide employees enough information, training, or supervision to protect them from the risk of a trench collapse.

They also failed to notify WorkSafe that an employee was supposed to be in the trench, as mandated for an excavation deeper than 1.5 metres.

"Anyone digging such a deep trench should be aware of the possibility of collapse and should take proper precautions. We know how to dig trenches safely – it's not hard to take the necessary safety measures," West said.

R&L Drainage was charged under multiple offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 as a result of the incident.

The Hamilton District Court sentenced the firm on January 11, imposing a $275,000 fine in addition to reparations of $45,000.

WorkSafe said it is also expecting employers to look after the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees in the aftermath of the incident.

"While victims can heal from their physical injuries, the mental toll can have a long-lasting impact on individuals and whānau – as it has in this case," West said.

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