Big payout but little justice

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A Queenstowner whose arm was crushed in a factory machine has mixed emotions about the outcome of the court case.

Daniel Figueroa, 20, suffered life-changing injuries after his right arm was trapped in a press oven at Remarkables Tortillas, in Industrial Place, for 20 minutes in November 2016.

He remained conscious throughout and afterwards needed a series of operations to treat a broken arm, burns, and a hole in his elbow.

He’s since had the tips of the three middle fingers of his right hand amputated down to the first knuckle and can’t rotate his wrist.

“That’s a big problem,” he says. “I can’t reach my face, can’t brush my teeth, eat, drink, can’t shave, all with my right hand.

“I can do them with my left hand but I’m right-handed.

“It’s been a long difficult process, quite frustrating, especially at the start.”

The former Wakatipu High Schooler, now studying political science at Canterbury University in Christchurch, was in Queenstown’s district court on Monday to see his former employer sentenced.

Now trading as Miller Foods Ltd, after relocating to Levin, it was prosecuted by WorkSafe New Zealand.

The company admitted a charge of failing to ensure the health and safety of Figueroa by exposing him to risk of death or serious injury.

It was ordered to pay $52,000 in reparation to Figueroa.

Judge John Brandts-Giesen said a fine would amount to $337,500 but the company was not required to pay it, or WorkSafe’s costs. He suppressed details of the company’s financial position.

Figueroa says he’s “happy” with the amount of reparation and can understand the judge’s reasoning, which he heard in court.

“But then, it’s not very much of a loss to them, they’ve just had to pay me. They’ve had to go through a lot since the accident but it’s not a huge loss to them. I understand why they’re not paying but it’s not ideal.”

He hopes the conviction at least will serve as a message to other employers to protect their workers.

WorkSafe legal counsel Natasha Szeto said the machine, imported from Mexico, was “inherently dangerous” and the company did not have sufficient health, safety and risk management procedures in place.

Figueroa says: “They didn’t have bad intent . . . they just didn’t have the right things in place that could have prevented it.”

He managed to turn off the machine after about 20 seconds but then had to wait for other workers to find him.

“I passed out once they took me out of the machine, but I was conscious through it because I wanted to get out.

“At the beginning it was quite scary remembering it, I had a few nightmares, but it’s been a while now. I just try not to think about it so I can get over it.”

It was hard to see his family suffer for him. He was in hospital for six weeks. But now he just wants to move forward with his life.

“I’m happy it’s all over.”

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz