4 Jun 2015

Port company fined over worker death

7:41 pm on 4 June 2015

A judge has fined Wellington's CentrePort nearly $61,000 over the death of an employee who was crushed after two stacks of pulp bales were pushed together by a forklift driven by a colleague.

The port company was found guilty of charges brought under the Health and Safety in Employment Act in January.

Judge Bill Hastings at the sentencing of CentrePort after the death of Mark Samoa.

Judge Bill Hastings at the Wellington District Court Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Port worker Mark Samoa was killed at work in January 2013. He was pasting labels on four-tonne stacks of pulp bales when a forklift driver attempted to straighten a pack.

Mr Samoa, who was between the stacks, was crushed and died as a result.

In the Wellington District Court today, Judge Bill Hastings said CentrePort had not taken all practical steps to ensure Mr Samoa's safety.

"By failing to physically separate the tasks of placing stacks and the task of labelling stacks, and failing to have a clear, detailed and documented procedure for all workers who were required to use forklifts for de-stacking, and workers required to undertake the pasting and labelling of packs."

Mark Samoa 's sister Rhonda Samoa

Mark Samoa's sister, Rhonda Samoa, outside court today Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The court heard that, since Mr Samoa's death, CentrePort's lawyer said the company had made considerable offers of amends to Mr Samoa's family.

That included over $142,000, which included death and disability insurance of over $55,000 and an education trust fund of over $30,000 for Mr Samoa's children.

The Crown believed CentrePort's culpability was at the high end and had called for a fine of up to $100,000 but Judge Hastings ruled it as in the medium range with a starting point of $85,000.

He reduced this fine to $60,691 because of the remorse and remedial action taken by CentrePort since the incident.

"This is a mitigating factor. It has ceased to handle pulp; it has nevertheless continued to review the interaction between man and machine in its other warehouses and port operations," he said.

"It is in the process of installing new technology that provides alerts to the presence of workers and machines."

Along with the fine, Judge Hastings also ordered CentrePort to pay Mr Samoa's family - who were in court for the sentencing - what the judge called a modest $15,000 in reparation.

'Death shouldn't be in the workplace'

Mr Samoa's daughter, Gemma Allen, said no amount would ever be enough.

"There's no price on my Dad's life, it's been so hard without him, but we are all supporting each other and I'm glad I have my brothers here with me," she said.

Mark Samoa's children, from left, Cale, Maleko and Gemma.

Mark Samoa's children, from left, Cale, Maleko and Gemma. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Samoa's sister, Rhonda Samoa, said while the trial had been difficult, it had helped the family.

"In hindsight, in the long run, it has helped with healing," she said. "We're not in the dark, we know exactly what happened, it's like somebody cares about Mark's life and the life he should have been able to live."

Ms Samoa said no-one should die doing their job. "The safety of workers is paramount, it's our everyday lives, you just go to work," she said.

"There's a family there - partner and children who waved goodbye to their father, who did not return, and I can't tell you how that's going to play out in their lives."

She said she hoped there would be changes at the port to prevent further deaths.

"I'm very pleased that this case was brought before a judge ... Death shouldn't be in the workplace."

Maritime Union spokesperson John Whiting said today's sentencing should make other industrial companies sit up and take note.

"This will be widely looked at by other port companies and employers in general.

"If it isn't, it certainly should be, and I believe it will be helpful in the prevention of serious accidents."

In a statement, CentrePort said it accepts the sentencing, regrets the accident and the thoughts of all the team continue to be with Mr Samoa's family.