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Amputation prosecutions just the tip of iceberg

11 November 2005

Amputation prosecutions just the tip of the iceberg

Hand and finger amputations are occurring on an average of more than three times a week in New Zealand workplaces.

The Department of Labour this week successfully prosecuted meat processing company PPCS, after a chiller hand and cleaner at Richmond Takapau lost parts of two fingers in a meat pulveriser. The machine had been turned off, but was still winding down when the man put his hand in to remove some trapped meat.

PPCS was fined $5000 and ordered to pay the worker $12,000 in compensation. The company had now modified the machine so that access to it was delayed for one minute to ensure it had fully wound down. Another five companies are currently facing prosecution over finger amputations.

Department health and safety chief advisor Mike Cosman said hand and finger amputations were the most common traumatic accident in New Zealand workplaces. Since 1997, the Department had been advised of more than 1500 amputations, and had taken more than 200 prosecutions since the Health and Safety in Employment Act came into force in 1993.

"On average, 14 people suffer finger and hand amputations at work every month, and the Department prosecutes an average of 18 companies or individuals every year. Court penalties alone for amputations have cost almost $1.5 million over the past 12 years - a staggering amount lost to industry.

"Other costs to business, including lost productivity, low staff morale, damage to plant or equipment, hiring and training of new staff, etc, are more difficult to quantify," Mr Cosman said.

Fixed machinery accounted for the majority of amputations, with saws and cutting and mincing equipment the most often to blame. Cleaning and maintenance, as well as routine operation, posed the greatest risk.

"Anywhere where machinery is present represents a risk, and we strongly urge all employers to take a serious look at any machinery their staff work with and make sure that not only is it safe to use, but that people are properly trained."

Amputations were most likely to occur in the food processing industry, which includes meat processing, and the metal and wood product manufacturing industries.

But Mr Cosman said amputations could happen almost anywhere. In recent years, the Department had investigated accidents in which people in a bar, a library and a bank all suffered amputations. Even places as innocuous as playgrounds, stairs and seats had caused finger loss.

Mr Cosman said the economic and emotional cost of workplace accidents for workers and their families could never be measured in dollars.

"Amputations are particularly nasty accidents, because they can seriously damage a person's self-esteem and affect the way people interact with them.

"The loss of a limb can make everyday tasks, such as picking up children or writing a letter, next to impossible. People often have to relearn activities that they previously took for granted, and no dollar amount can compensate for that."

More information on the social and economic impact of workplace accidents can be found at:

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