NZ$500,000 fine and reparation after death on Sanford fishing vessel

San Granit (Photo: Transport Accident Investigation Commission)
San Granit (Photo: Transport Accident Investigation Commission)

The death of a crewmember on the factory fishing vessel San Granit has led to fishing company Sanford being fined NZ$375,000 and ordered to pay NZ$121,860 reparations to family and NZ$35,000 costs by the Timaru District Court.

Sanford pleaded guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act of exposing workers to risk of death or serious injury. The court has now released its reserved decision.

Maritime NZ Investigations Manager Pete Dwen said the tragedy occurred in November 2018 when Steffan Stewart became caught in machinery in the ship's automated freezer system for processing fish.

"The need for machine guards to protect workers is a well-known issue on ships," Mr Dwen said.

When Sanford bought San Granit in 2016 it had an "at sea safety report" done to identify risks on board and what could be done to fix them.

Dangers in the automated freezer system were identified as "high risk". However, it was not until Mr Stewart's death two years after the report that Sanford spent NZ$450,000 making critical changes, including introducing an automatic shutdown system and revising its standard operating procedure (SOP) for clearing blockages.

The incident occurred shortly after 03:45 local time when Mr Stewart entered part of the automated freezer system to clear a blockage. When the system activated he became caught and was fatally injured by moving parts of the system.

On most voyages, the foreman or factory manager was to review the SOP with the freezer man. There are no records of this review kept by Sanford.

Judge A.A. Couch said in his decision that having a written SOP at the time of the incident was of little value in practice because Sanford did not monitor compliance and management was either unaware or unconcerned that the procedures were not being followed.

Workers had developed their own work-arounds to clear blockages, including not calling designated personnel as required.

In addition, the cage around part of the system was not always locked. This meant workers could enter the caged area to clear a blockage without the system being turned off.

The factory supervisor checked workers every hour. However, the factory supervisor on Mr Stewart's shift was unfamiliar with the automated freezer system and therefore limited in their ability to monitor and provide the supervision necessary to help keep workers safe.

They were also unaware of Sanford's fatigue management policy – San Granit's factory operated 24/7 when the ship was fishing.

Maritime NZ's investigation found that Sanford could have guarded machinery in the automated freezer system so blockages could be cleared without exposing workers to moving parts, the SOP was poorly worded and confusing, and monitoring and supervision of workers' safety was inadequate.

"It is positive that all these changes have now been made by Sanford," Mr Dwen said. "However, it is critical all employers consider carefully machine guarding equipment, processes, monitoring and supervision to avoid it taking a death or serious injury to learn these lessons."

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