Poor risk management and a lack of worker engagement have been identified as factors in the death of an East Coast freezing worker, who was crushed by a falling steel frame full of offal cartons.
Alfred Edwards was attempting to free a jammed carton in a blast freezer at AFFCO’s Wairoa plant in February 2020, when a frame fell and fatally crushed him. The 61-year-old was alone in the back end of the blast freezer at the time.
AFFCO New Zealand Limited has now been sentenced in the Gisborne District Court for its health and safety failures. Judge Warren Cathcart has described the death as "a wholly avoidable event".
WorkSafe found the company was aware cartons had jammed previously, and the freezer had not been maintained to modern safety standards. While AFFCO said the freezer was only used intermittently, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 applies to anywhere work is carried out, regardless of how often.
“AFFCO had overarching health and safety procedures, but they weren’t applied in practice. Having a written process but not following it is the same as having nothing at all,” says WorkSafe’s Head of Specialist Interventions, Dr Catherine Gardner.
Following the death, AFFCO decommissioned the freezer.
“The investigation also found management didn’t spend enough time talking to workers on the job, to hear about and fix any safety issues with this machine. Doing so could have averted this tragedy.”
“Mr Edwards was described as a man with mana who has left a huge void. The death has been devastating for his immediate whānau, and the small Wairoa community,” says Dr Gardner.
AFFCO is owned by Talley’s Group Limited. Since July 2021, WorkSafe has been taking a close look at Talley’s Group of companies, due to a history of serious health and safety incidents.
WorkSafe has finalised the monitoring and measurement approach it will take with Talley’s to make sure changes are enacted and followed, with monitoring continuing for some time.
“Talley’s has acknowledged improvements were needed and has been proactively engaged throughout WorkSafe’s interaction with them. We’re being as thorough as possible in order to shift Talley’s health and safety culture in a meaningful way that creates lasting change, and keeps people healthy and safe,” says Dr Gardner.
- AFFCO New Zealand Limited was sentenced at the Gisborne District Court on 23 June 2023
- A fine of $502,500 was imposed
- AFFCO was charged under sections 36(1)(a), 48(1) and (2)(c), of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
- Being a PCBU having a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who work for the PCBU, including Alfred William Pohatu Edwards, while the workers were at work in the business or undertaking, namely operating the north blast freezer, did fail to comply with that duty and that failure exposed workers to a risk of death or serious injury arising from the uncontrolled descent of a steel frame at the back end of the north blast freezer.
- The maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding $1.5 million.
WorkSafe prosecutions of Talley’s Group/AFFCO