Worker awarded 10K after safety breach dismissal

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A cable-making machine operator has been awarded almost $10,000 after he was dismissed from his job following a workplace accident.

Brent Peters had been employed by General Cable New Zealand for five years when he was dismissed in June last year for conduct or behaviour which could result in injury and failing to follow standard operating procedures.

Peters claimed to the Employment Relations Authority that he was unjustifiably dismissed.

He was fired following an incident in which he became caught in a piece of machinery.

Peters was operating a machine that wound cable onto a wooden drum. As he went to cut the cable he dropped his pair of cutters, as he bent down to pick them up the front of his overalls caught on a protruding screw and began to pull him in.

He was unable to reach the emergency stop button and his co-workers couldn't hear him over the noise of the factory. However, he was seen struggling by another worker who stopped the machine.

He reported the incident to a supervisor and after his shift sought medical attention where he was told it was likely he had fractured a rib.

General Cable told the ERA that Peters was justifiably dismissed for breaching the standard operating procedures and engaging in conduct causing injury. They stated to the authority they also placed reliance on Peters' response at the disciplinary meeting where he claimed that he had done similar things before and been neither hurt, nor caught.

Authority member Helen Doyle said that depending on the circumstances, a single act of negligence could sometimes justify a dismissal.

"Mr Peters' action was unsafe because he placed himself in the way of moving machinery and therefore in harm's way. He should have stopped the machine before removing the cutters. There was a serious consequence because he was injured.”

However, she added: “The action leading to the accident was spontaneous and inadvertent to retrieve cutters to continue work and was not a willful or deliberate breach of procedures and policies."

Additionally she found that while the company alleged Peters had breached the company's standard operating procedures, there were no relevant instructions for the machine.

"I do not agree that a fair and reasonable employer could have justifiably dismissed Mr Peters in all the circumstances at the time," she said.

She awarded Peters three months wages of $4100 and $10,000 in compensation, minus 33% due to his actions.

 

 

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