Health related prosecution shines spotlight on work health risks

A recent health-related prosecution of an Ashburton animal feed producer for failing to manage the risk of dust exposure has shone a spotlight on the need to manage work-related health risks.

Precision Animal Supplements Ltd (PAS) manufactures a range of mineral pellets for cattle. A hammer mill, a pelletiser and mixing using a bobcat created a large amount of dust which put six workers at PAS at risk of exposure.

“WorkSafe recognises that work can affect health and health can affect work, and a business has an important role to protect workers’ mental and physical health,” says WorkSafe Principal Advisor System Strategies, Sue Cotton.

A 2017 investigation by WorkSafe revealed that of the materials used to make the pellets, 85% were a substance hazardous to health and 64% of those were toxic substances.

The investigation also found the company lacked health risk management systems and identified substantial failures to manage worker exposure to hazardous substances.

PAS pleaded guilty and was sentenced and fined $70,000 late last year. The court said it would have been appropriate for a fine of around $400,000 to be handed down; however the fine was reduced for financial reasons.

PAS was also ordered to pay a total of $5000 in emotional harm payments to three of the exposed workers.

“People were clearly being harmed. The message for businesses is they must ensure they manage health risks. They also need to ensure those paid to advise on health risks are competent,” says Ms Cotton.