Is culture to blame for employee’s decapitation?

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Talley’s Group Ltd. has been ordered to pay almost $75,000 in fines after safety failures led to the decapitation of a crewmember – but court documents reveal the company’s culture may have also contributed to the employee’s untimely death.

Nelson-based Leighton Muir died aboard the M.J. Souza when a rope snapped back while hauling in a net full of tuna – a court heard late last week that the 50mm rope had broken three weeks previous but had simply been tied back together.

When the knot came undone, the ship's captain instructed a crew member to secure it and continue winching in the net full of fish, effectively placing undue weight on the broken safety line – that line then whipped back, decapitating 27-year-old Muir who was in the boat's high-risk "snapback" zone

The 27-year-old’s head was lost overboard but the remaining crew stored Muir's body in a freezer as the boat departed for Samoa.

Talley’s was ordered to pay $21,000 to Muir’s family as well as $73,520 in fines after the company pleaded guilty to a charge laid by Maritime New Zealand of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work.

However, court documents indicate a culture of fear may have existed within the company and could have played a role in the young fisherman’s death.

Prosecutor Dale La Hood told the court the rope which ultimately killed Muir could have been replaced in under 30 minutes but when a crew member raised the possibility with the ship's bosun, he "reacted badly and scared the others off".

Interviews with the M.J Souza's crew showed the captain was known to yell at them and La Hood insisted there was a culture “from the captain down, that reflected badly on the company."

"The accidental death of a crew member is something no company wants to face and words cannot express the remorse I feel personally as a result,” said Talley’s general manager Tony Hazlett.

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