Workers also responsible for health and safety

Lookout! Issue 37, August 2017

Two crew members on fishing trawlers had fingers amputated recently as a result of attempting to carry out dangerous tasks on machines that were still operating.

PThis seafarer had two fingers amputated to the middle knuckles.

Maritime New Zealand © 2019
This seafarer had two fingers amputated to the middle knuckles when trying to clear a jam in a fish mincing machine, while it was still operating.

In two separate incidents on vessels off the coast of the South Island, both men failed to comply with safety processes on-board. One man attempted to unblock a fish mincing machine while it was operating, and the other to grease the drive chain of a rope spooler while it was still winching.

Both injuries are a reminder that, under the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), the safety of crew is not just the responsibility of employers, or PCBUs (People Conducting a Business or Undertaking). The Act also requires workers to take responsibility for their own health and safety, and that of fellow crew. This means they should follow established operating procedures, and always think about safety when carrying out tasks. Workers should also raise any health and safety concerns with management or their health and safety representative.

In one case a worker in the fish factory of a trawler had two fingers amputated to the middle knuckles while trying to clear a jam in the fish mincing machine. The machine was still running when he inserted a metal tray rod through a small gap in the machine guard – poking the rod at the mincing mechanism. The tray rod got stuck in the working parts of the machine while two of his fingers were inside the rod’s handle. The fingers were severed in the scissoring action.

Aged in his early 20s, the man says he does not know why he failed to follow normal safety protocols. The machine had factory guards in place, and in the past he had followed standard operating procedures by stopping its operation before clearing blockages.

He was an experienced crew member and he had worked with the machine for two years. It was the first time he had tried to use a tray rod to clear it.

The operator has now further improved guarding on the machine, and metal tray rods have been removed company wide.

Meanwhile a seafarer, 35, on another vessel had two fingers surgically amputated after his hand was pulled into the drive chain of a rope spooler. He had been attempting to grease the drive chain while the winch was still moving.

The crew member had been previously told by the skipper not to grease this piece of equipment while it was still operating. After the incident, verbal and written instructions were issued to all employees and skippers on vessels operated by the company, making it clear that no machinery should be greased while in operation. The company has also fixed guards to the drive chains, and the grease nipples have been extended so they are well away from the drive system.

This operator (fishing company) and the self-employed skipper both pleaded guilty to charges under the old Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, and were fined and ordered to pay reparations to the victim.

PThis seafarer had two fingers amputated to the middle knuckles.

Maritime New Zealand © 2019
A seafarer’s hand was pulled into the drive chain of this rope spooler, above left, when he was attempting to grease it while the winch was still moving.

LOOKOUT! Points

  • Workers as well as maritime operators (PCBUs) and ship’s masters (officers) have responsibilities for health and safety under the new Act.
  • In these two incidents both men ignored normal safety protocols to take unnecessary risks with their own safety. Neither were in an emergency situation or under pressure to produce, or to meet deadlines.
  • Commercial fishing is one of the top high risk sectors in the New Zealand economy.
  • It is important to remember fishing operations are inherently dangerous, and to be constantly on guard against risky practices.
  • Workers are expected to help make workplaces safe. Better decisions are made when everyone in the workplace shares their knowledge and experience, and takes responsibility for a safe working environment.
  • Guidance on responsibilities under the HSWA can be viewed at: maritimenz.govt.nz/hswa.

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