November 2, 2012
New Zealand

Safety info lacking before wind farm death

Deborah Morris | Business Day | 2 November 2012 |

A company hired to do line work on a Makara wind farm had failed to get the relevant information on safely using a machine, which later toppled killing one man and seriously injuring another.

Filipino father of four Edwin Sarmiento, 42, died at the scene and Antonio Maniago was seriously injured when a machine toppled as it was lifting them in a cage to do line maintenance.

Transfield Services (NZ) has pleaded not guilty in Wellington District Court to a charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure employees of a contractor, Electrix, were not harmed. Sarmiento and Maniago worked for Electrix when the accident happened on June 2 last year.

The two men were in a platform being lifted by a Manitou telescopic handler, a boom mounted on a piece of machinery that looked like a tractor, when the Manitou toppled on the ridge of a steep gully and the men fell about 20 metres.

In closing submissions Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry prosecutor Greg La Hood said the main issue was that Transfield had not got the information needed about how the machinery would operate on a slope or what its operating limits were.

He said Transfield had hired the machine and it came with some information like a specification sheet but no additional information was sought.

Mr La Hood said the machine was on a ridge at the top of a steep hill on rough ground.

He said Transfield could have used suspended ladders as they had originally been intending to do.

The operators were not adequately able to use the machine and needed to be adequately trained, he told Judge Tom Broadmore.

Transfield lawyer Adrian Olney said the logic of the case was that it toppled, and so given the absence of another explanation must have toppled because it was on too great a slope and because it was on excessive slope Transfield must have failed to take steps to avoid that.

He said there was an air of unreality about it that Transfield should be required to get more information than they were given when the machine was hired.

Mr Olney said there was just not enough evidence that Transfield had not taken the steps it needed to to ensure the workers safety.

If convicted Transfield could be fined up to $250,000.

Judge Broadmore reserved his decision.

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