Queenstowner gets $52k pay out for mangled arm

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A man whose arm was crushed in a machine at a Queenstown tortilla factory in 2016 says he has to live with the consequences for the rest of his life.

In a statement read to the Queenstown District Court yesterday, Daniel Figueroa said that during his long recovery from the accident, he needed help to perform the most basic functions, and felt like a burden on his family.

The 20-year-old’s right arm was mangled to the bone when it became trapped as he tried to remove a stuck tortilla from a press oven machine on November 23 of that year.

Now a student at the University of Canterbury, he said he felt socially isolated, depressed and worried about his work prospects.

The permanent damage to his right arm meant he could no longer enjoy his favourite pursuits of playing musical instruments or tennis with his friends.

Miller Foods Ltd, which was trading as Remarkables Tortillas at the time of the incident, was ordered by Judge John Brandts-Giesen to pay Mr Figueroa more than $52,000.

The sum consisted of $45,000 reparation, $6741 for a shortfall in ACC payments and $541 for physiotherapy fees.

Although a fine of $337,500 was quantified, the company was not required to pay any of that amount or WorkSafe’s costs.

Judge Brandts-Giesen suppressed the reasons for the decision.

After an investigation, WorkSafe New Zealand charged the company with failing to ensure the health and safety of Mr Figueroa by exposing him to risk of death or serious injury.

It pleaded guilty to the charge last year.

WorkSafe legal counsel Natasha Szeto said the guard on the machine did not conform to industry standards, there were no written procedures for operating it, and the factory supervisor was not present at the time of the accident.

The machine, which had been imported from Mexico by the factory’s previous owner and used “as is”, was “inherently dangerous”, Ms Szeto said.

“In my submission, it’s clear that health and safety was not the No1 priority.”

The company did not have a health and safety system that identified and controlled risks and hazards in the factory, did not carry out a risk assessment of its machinery, failed to ensure the machine was adequately guarded, did not adequately train staff in safe working procedures for machine, and had no emergency response system in which the workers were trained.

After being trapped by the machine for 20 minutes, Mr Figueroa was flown to Dunedin Hospital, where he underwent two operations in five days to treat a broken arm, burns and a hole in his elbow.

He initially spent a total of six weeks in hospital, and required two more operations in January last year.

As well as undergoing two skin grafts, he had parts of three fingers on his right hand amputated.

Judge Brandts-Giesen said it was a sad day for everyone involved.

“I hope Mr Figueroa will be able to reshape his life, and the company will be able to reshape its practices.”

WorkSafe investigations and specialist services deputy general manager Simon Humphries said in a written statement the oven press was “a piece of machinery loaded with risks” and the incident was “entirely avoidable”.

An interlocking guard was installed on the machine only after after WorkSafe issued prohibition and improvement notices.

The company has since relocated the factory to Levin.

  • Otago Daily Times