‘I’m not their mother’ – employer’s words after teenage worker blinded in one eye

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A Kaikoura employer who didn’t provide appropriate eye protection has been sentenced for failings that cost a young worker his vision in one eye.

Daniel Anderson, an agricultural fencing sole trader, had a 17-year-old worker who was chiselling when a piece of metal flew into his right eye in March 2020. Despite multiple surgeries, the teenager lost sight in the eye.

Mr Anderson did not notify WorkSafe of the injury, as required by the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. Several months later the victim’s mother did so, triggering an investigation.

When a WorkSafe inspector asked Mr Anderson whether he told workers to use protective gear, his response was: “I’m not their mother and going to dress them every morning”.

Mr Anderson confirmed that he had not provided full instruction to the victim on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as safety glasses, because in his words “it was common sense”.

Mr Anderson also indicated to WorkSafe he felt it was too expensive to buy PPE, saying: “I’m too small for that sort of… carry on”.

WorkSafe’s national manager of investigations, Hayden Mander says the employer’s comments reflect an outdated, unacceptable, and cavalier attitude.

“A young man at the start of his working life now has seriously impaired vision. It’s astounding for an employer to not understand the seriousness of the situation.”

“The cost of health and safety is part of the cost of doing business. The worker should have been provided with appropriate PPE, including eye protection, and required to wear it when using a chisel and hammer or any other task where there is a risk of an eye injury.”

Workers who are vulnerable because of age, inexperience, or conditions of employment may be less likely to question health and safety practices or to speak up if they are unsure.

“Beyond the obvious health and safety gaps in this case, it’s both illegal and morally wrong for an employer of any size to not notify WorkSafe of an incident like this. No employer is exempt,” says Hayden Mander.

Read WorkSafe’s guidance on protecting your workers’ eyes

Read more about WorkSafe prosecutions

Background

  • Daniel Anderson was sentenced at Kaikoura District Court on 15 July 2022.
  • Judge Raoul Neave ordered $22,500 be paid for emotional harm and consequential loss, given Daniel Anderson’s lack of insurance and inability to pay a fine.
  • Daniel Nicholas Anderson was charged under sections 36(1)(a), 48(1) and (2)(b) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
    • being a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) having a duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who work for the PCBU, while workers were at work in the business or undertaking, namely while erecting a fence, did fail to comply with that duty, and that failure exposed workers to a risk of serious injury.
  • The maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding $300,000.
  • Daniel Nicholas Anderson was also charged under sections 56(1) and (6)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
    • being a PCBU who became aware that a notifiable event arising out of the conduct of the business or undertaking occurred on 12 March 2020 (the notifiable injury), failed to ensure that the regulator, WorkSafe New Zealand, was notified of the event as soon as possible.
    • The maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding $10,000.
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