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Fatigue in the Workplace

28 June 2018

A recent sentencing in the District Court comes after the death of a tractor driver in the North Island back in October 2016. At the time the worker died, he had just clocked a nearly 17 hour day harvesting on farm. At 2.45am on his way home he crashed the tractor and did not survive. In the fortnight leading up to the accident the worker had done nearly 200 hours.

In the investigation that followed, the most likely cause of the accident was fatigue. In addition the worker had not been wearing a seatbelt.

Known hazard not mitigated

Sadly, back in January 2016 the company had prepared a health and safety document, which had noted that fatigue was a high risk hazard. In order to mitigate that risk, it was suggested that certain steps be taken to monitor the long working hours and to ensure break times were taken. However the policy was never implemented.

The employer was charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

The employer was the person in charge of the business or undertaking (PCBU) and had failed to ensure so far as was reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who worked for them, while the workers were at work.

By failing to ensure the worker’s safety by managing the risk of fatigue, they had exposed the worker to a risk of serious injury or death.

Fines and reparation

The maximum penalty under the Act is a fine of $1.5 million, however at sentencing the Court indicated a fine of $325,000 as appropriate.

In the end a fine of $10,000 was awarded but the reasons around why that fine was imposed have been suppressed. The Court also awarded a reparation payment of $80,000 and costs of $2656.50.

As noted the maximum fine available under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 is $1,500,000 for a company. It is $300,000 for an individual PCBU.

Where the PCBU is found to have more serious offending, fines can be increased to $3,000,000 for a company or $600,000 for an individual PCBU and/or up to five years imprisonment. In addition to a fine and other alternative orders, a Court may order that reparation be paid to a victim.

We can help you with any queries you may have about health and safety legislation and how it applies to you.