Two men sentenced to jail for covering up poor health and safety practices show businesses can’t get away with poor practice.
The New Zealand Police charged William Mansfield Trevor Sullivan for making a false statement and Steven Patrick John Sullivan for perverting the course of justice. William Sullivan was sentenced to nine months imprisonment on 21 July and Steven Sullivan to 20 months imprisonment on 25 July.
An apprentice at Aimex Limited was exposed to vapour from solvents he had been directed to use when cleaning an engine room which wasn’t adequately ventilated, causing serious brain injury. Aimex was sentenced in July 2021 for health and safety failings contributing to the incident.
WorkSafe’s investigation found Aimex failed to develop a safe system of work relating to hazardous substances, and had failed to properly supervise, train and instruct its workers on work with hazardous substances.
Concerns deepened when WorkSafe was informed the same thing had happened with a different worker the week before.
“In that instance the worker was fortunate to recognise symptoms and keep themselves safe. Information passed on to WorkSafe related to the destruction of key documents to cover up the previous incident, which affected our ability to substantiate it.”
“The deception meant the sentencing of Aimex was not carried out with full understanding of failings. WorkSafe informed Police, who then prosecuted the two individuals,” says WorkSafe’s head of Specialist Interventions Dr Catherine Gardner.
Dr Gardner says businesses and organisations should focus on preventing harm instead of covering it up. Exposure to harmful chemicals is a well-known risk businesses and organisations must manage under the law.
“Risks must be managed, and workers must be protected from this kind of harm.”
WorkSafe New Zealand v Aimex Limited
- On 29 July 2019 a worker with Aimex Limited was exposed to a hazardous substance after being instructed to clean a catamaran’s engine room using a hydrocarbon based brake cleaner. The worker suffered from an anoxic brain injury due to the effects of toxic solvent exposure.
- WorkSafe was notified of the incident on 29 July 2019 and commenced an investigation.
- Aimex Limited was charged under sections 36(1)(a), 48(1) and 48(2)(c) on 28 July 2020 and later pleaded guilty. Aimex Limited was sentenced on 9 July 2021.
- See the 2021 sentencing notes on the District Court website(external link)