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A failure to prevent workers being exposed to methyl bromide has seen a business fined $250,000 after a WorkSafe New Zealand investigation.
The investigation began after workers at Flick Anticimex Limited, a pest control fumigation service, suffered acute methyl bromide poisoning as a result of ongoing exposure to the hazardous substance.
“Our investigation found problems with fitting Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE), and that some workers were not using it at all. Practices around RPE were seriously below what they needed to be,” says Api Poutasi, Manager Health, Health & Technical Services at WorkSafe.
“Businesses shouldn’t rely on RPE as the main way to look after the health of their workers. They need to consider the hierarchy of controls. This is a requirement under the Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations 2016.
“In this case workers were exposed due to the way the work was carried out, or due to ineffective respiratory protective equipment"
“Flick Anticimex was advising workers with facial hair to use Vaseline to help the mask fit on their face. This is a myth which is deeply concerning in how widespread it is. Businesses and organisations must stop propagating this myth.
“Workers wearing RPE should be clean shaven. Even a small amount of stubble can prevent a proper seal from forming. Vaseline does nothing to help this, and workers will still be wearing RPE which hasn’t formed a seal based on incorrect information from their employer.”
WorkSafe’s investigation also found the business standard was workers didn’t use RPE when undertaking formaldehyde fumigations and no staff had been adequately trained to clean and maintain the RPE equipment that they did have. There was also no coherent system in place that monitored employee exposure to toxic fumigants.
The business had been advised by an Occupational Health Consultant in 2019 that given the lethal nature of the fumigants involved, and the potential concentrations that workers would be exposed to, it was essential that RPE was provided and properly fitted.
Flick Anticimex Limited was sentenced on 7 December 2021 at the Auckland District Court, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 for exposing employees to toxic fumigants such as methyl bromide, hydrogen cyanide and formaldehyde.
Flick Anticimex Limited:
- Flick Anticimex Limited was sentenced under sections 36(1)(a), 48(1) and 48(2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
- Being a PCBU having a duty to ensure, so far is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of workers who work for the PCBU, while the workers are at work in the business conducting fumigations, did fail to comply with that duty and that failure exposed individuals to a risk of death or serious illness arising from exposure to toxic fumigant gasses including methyl bromide, hydrogen cyanide and formaldehyde.
- The charge has a maximum fine of $1,500,000. A fine of $250,000 was imposed on Flick Anticimex Limited.