New Zealand Fish Processor Fined for Frostbite Injuries

Two Pelco employees, both with minimal experience, suffered frostbite while unloading fish from holds filled with chilled water.

Pelco, a New Zealand fish processing company, has been fined $16,000 in a district court case stemming from two employees' frostbite injuries in July 2012, Maritime New Zealand announced. The company faced a charge under Section 13 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees.

The employees had minimal experience. They suffered frostbite hand injuries while unloading fish from holds filled with water chilled to approximately -17° C, equivalent to about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. The chilled water causes fish to float to the surface, where they can be manually loaded onto conveyor belts. The agency reported the employees received a pair of thin rubber gloves and cotton glove liners, as well as other waterproof clothing. They also received a safety briefing, but it did not specifically identify the dangers of working in extremely cold water.

Both employees' gloves were torn by fish spikes, which allowed water to get into their gloves. MNZ Regional Compliance Manager Central Pelin Davison said the sentence was a good result for the victims. "This sentence sends a strong message that health and safety is something which must be taken very seriously by employers. Just providing safety equipment is not sufficient; all practicable steps must be taken to mitigate or eliminate the hazard."

According to MNZ, the first victim was hospitalized for about 20 days. "He is responding very slowly to treatment but still does not have use of the fingers on his right hand. They remain swollen and stiff, with the joints of the fingers locked in a fixed position. He must continue to wear a compression garment, and is likely to have permanent, limited mobility in the four fingers. His treatment is ongoing," its news release stated. "The second victim received medical treatment for his injuries. He has recovered from the frostbite but is unable to work in cold conditions."

In addition to the fine, Pelco were ordered to pay $2,000 to the second victim and an additional $4,000 to the first victim, to whom it has already paid $10,000.

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