Meat processors not safe enough says union

Meat processors not safe enough says New Zealand Union
By SONIA GERKEN in Gore - The Southland Times

Meat workers union leaders have accused processing companies of not going far enough to ensure the health and safety of their employees.

Labour Department figures, requested by The Southland Times, show that Southland-based meat processor Alliance Group has the second-highest number of convictions for serious harm incidents in their plants from 1995 to 2008.

Alliance's 11 convictions were one less than North Island meat processor Richmond Ltd, now owned by Silver Ferns Farms.

New Zealand's largest meat processing company, Silver Fern Farms, had two convictions when it was operating as PPCS.

New Zealand Meat Workers Union Otago-Southland branch secretary Gary Davis said companies were paying lip service to health and safety.

"It's one thing to have signs on the wall and all the paperwork but in reality our people are working far too hard at a level far too great for the average person," Mr Davis said.

A worker who had been injured at an Alliance Plant said he felt there was too much focus on production and not enough on safety.

"People are working under pressure and some struggle to keep up and that's when accidents happen. There needs to be more safety awareness amongst workers and the company, and workers need to be listened to when they identify hazards."

Representatives for Alliance and Silver Farm Farms said their companies had rigorous health and safety procedures in place.

Alliance human resources and communications manager Kerry Stevens said his company's record of having the second-highest number of convictions possibly reflected the fact it was the second-largest meat company.

The meat industry was inherently more hazardous than many other industries and Alliance continued to improve and invest significant resources into health and safety, he said.

Alliance operated nine plants and had an estimated 5600 employees at the peak of the season.

Silver Fern Farms communications manager Brent Melville said the company was very happy with recording only two convictions in 13 years, given it was the largest meat processor in the country, but it could always do better. "We don't pay lip service to it (health and safety)."

The company has 24 plants throughout the country and about 7000 employees at the height of the season.

Labour Department figures show that there were 951 serious harm incidents in the meat processing industry from January 2005 to February this year.

The number of incidents had increased during the past two years.

Mr Davis said the union had gone to great expense to help members, including having a lawyer working fulltime to assist in such areas as ACC claims.

New people coming into the industry were a big problem, Mr Davis said.

There was not enough training and they were literally "thrown in at the deep end" and expected to keep up, he said.

SOUTH RECORD

Silver Fern Farms: Last conviction for a serious harm incident was in 2005 when company operated as PPCS.

Alliance Group: In 2004 two workers at the Lorneville plant suffered serious hand injuries in separate incidents, a Mataura plant employee had to have his leg amputated; in 2006, two incidents at the Lorneville plant, including the death of a man after he fell almost 5m; in 2008 a beef house employee suffered serious crush injuries.