Ministry fined after contractors hurt on farm

At the time, MPI suspected the farm was infected with Mycoplasma bovis.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was fined $30,000 in the Invercargill District Court yesterday — the first time the government agency has been prosecuted in relation to the health and safety of its contractors.

The fine was as a result of contractors suffering chemical burns while carrying out disinfecting during a suspected Mycoplasma bovis outbreak on a Southland farm.

The charges related to an incident on May 17, 2018, when contractors were taken to hospital after suffering minor or superficial burns to their arms, faces or hands as a result of contact with a chemical product while cleaning Southern Centre Dairies, at Limehills.

At the time, MPI suspected the farm was infected with M. bovis.

MPI previously plead guilty to two charges of exposing individuals to risk or harm or illness following a prosecution from WorkSafe.

Co-offenders in the case AsureQuality Limited and OneStaff (Queenstown/Invercargill) Limited were sentenced last year where AsureQuality was fined $66,000 plus court costs of $2392.93, while OneStaff was ordered to pay $38,500 and the same amount of court costs. Both were also ordered to pay $1666.66 each in reparation.

At the hearing yesterday, WorkSafe prosecutor Katie Hogan said MPI engaged AsureQuality to deliver cleaning and disinfection as part of the response to M. bovis.

MPI was the government agency which had responsibility for the response, and it had breached the primary duty to ensure the healthy and safety of its contractors, she said.

MPI representatives were in Invercargill at the time and were holding daily briefs, so the incident could have been avoided.

Ms Hogan submitted the culpability of MPI was lower than AsureQuality but was greater than One Staff — as the second company did not have access to the farm where the cleaning process was taking place.

Counsel Chris White said MPI was disappointed to be in court as it took the health and safety of its workers "very seriously" and considered itself a leader in the matter.

It was the first time MPI had been prosecuted on health and safety charges and it had identified and implemented a number of changes following the incident, he said

Mr White submitted MPI had a lower culpability than the other parties as it did not have a "hands-on" role, controlling the day-to-day operations.

However, he acknowledged MPI could have done more to ensure AsureQuality Limited was following its safety plan.

"If the safety plan had been followed, we would not be here."

Judge Russell Walker agreed the culpability of MPI was lower than the other co-offenders and acknowledged the "previous good character" of the ministry.

He ordered MPI to pay $30,000 plus prosecution costs of $3800 and $1666.66 in reparation towards the five workers — a third of the total $5000 reparation payment.

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