Death highlights need to check for hazards when work processes change

Thursday 4 December 2008, 4:42PM
By Department of Labour


The death of a Nelson worker struck by machinery he was cleaning highlights the need for employers to identify whether a change in processes has created new, potentially deadly, hazards, the Department of Labour says.

Nelson fruit and berry processing company Gibb Holdings (Nelson) Limited was today fined $25,000 after being prosecuted over the worker’s death by the department. The company, which trades as Sujon, was also ordered to pay reparation of $25,000 to the victim’s family.

“This death might have been prevented if the company had identified new hazards that were created when it changed the process for freezing berries and cleaning of the machinery,” the department’s Nelson-based Service Manager Annette Baxter says. “The company should also have developed a safe procedure for cleaning the machine and trained the victim in this safe procedure.”

On January 7, 2008 the company introduced an extra process to its berry processing line. To enable the freezer to be cleaned, a 340kg machine used to remove berry stalks and flowers had to be moved into a pre-processing room where it would also be cleaned. A week later the victim moved the machine part way to the pre-processing room and began cleaning it without locking the castor wheels in place. The machine began to move and one of its legs rolled into an uncovered drainage sump, causing the machine to tip over and kill the victim.

“It’s essential that employers think through the hazards that might be created when processes are changed,” Ms Baxter says. “In this case the company hadn’t considered the risks created by the machine being moved around at the same time as the drainage sumps were likely to be uncovered as part of the overall cleaning process.”

Having a clear procedure for cleaning the machine could have reinforced the need to cover all sumps and drains before moving the machine, and to make sure the machine’s wheels were locked after it was moved, she says. “Training for the victim could have included information on the need to lock the wheels before cleaning.”

The department has a free online tool that can help employers identify hazards, which is available at