Otago company prosecuted over truck driver's death

WorkSafe is taking court action against an Otago company over the 2017 death of a truck driver killed by a vehicle in Bluff. 

The Invercargill District Court heard this morning that a reversing front-loader struck the man while he was standing in a shared work area on February 24, 2017.

The vehicle operator and victim have name suppression. 

McLellan Freight Ltd has pleaded not guilty to two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act: failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of a worker, and failing to coordinate an activity with persons conducting a business or undertaking.

The Otago-based company used contracted truck drivers to transport palm kernel, a kind of animal feed, from South Port to a shed in Bluff where the fatal accident took place.

The premises were shared by many trucking businesses, the court heard.

In his opening address for WorkSafe, Ben Finn said more should have been  done by McLellan Freight Ltd to ensure the safety of all workers in the shed.

He said while the company had written safety procedures, they were “overly dependent on administrative controls”.

The company relied too heavily on workers being vigilant, making no mistakes and following directions, he alleged.

“These procedures were not robust enough in the circumstances."

In a police interview, the driver who hit the victim said he “would always use his mirrors, especially when backing down the heap”.

He said while reversing he checked his left mirror, saw the hoist of the truck behind him and pressed his brakes, the court heard.

He thought: “s*** that was close”, but didn’t believe he had hit anything.

Counsel Brett Harris said McLellan Freight Ltd accepted it was responsible for the deceased contractor, but has denied the charges.

Mr Harris also apologised for the delay in getting this case to trial.

“We recognise that this has been a long time coming and that has impacted everyone, but in particular the family."

Judge Duncan Harvey described the trial as “an inquiry into what the defendant did and did not do… when it comes to what he did not do, what should he have done?”

Two companies that contracted drivers to the defendant company have been convicted in relation to the death.

Transport Services Southland Ltd and Herberts Transport Ltd each earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of not taking all practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of a worker.

The judge alone trial is expected to take all week.