Otago Polytechnic convicted after student's finger partially amputated during carpentry course

Otago Polytechnic.
Otago Polytechnic. Photo credit: Google Maps

Otago Polytechnic has been convicted for health and safety failings after a student's finger was partially amputated during a pre-trade carpentry course, WorkSafe has revealed.

The tertiary institute appeared in the Dunedin District Court on May 29 and was sentenced to a Court-Ordered Enforceable Undertaking (COEU) under the Health and Safety at Work Act. This order is in lieu of a fine.

The COEU means Otago Polytechnic must spend at least $275,000 on health and safety measures and initiatives, including scholarships, awareness campaigns and safety training.

The student was injured in 2018 after he used a draw saw to cut a length of timber. A WorkSafe investigation found the machine wasn't properly guarded, allowing the student's fingers to slip in front of the blade.

He sustained a partial amputation to his middle finger on his left hand as well as cuts and grazes. His finger was later re-attached in hospital.

WorkSafe chief inspector Steve Kelly said learning institutions offering carpentry or similar courses need to be held to the highest health and safety standards.

"Otago Polytechnic should have been well aware of health and safety risks. Instead they were allowing students to operate machinery that was not up to industry standards, which is entirely unacceptable."

He added the COEU requires Otago Polytechnic to report to court every six months over a two-year period, and an independent auditor will supply additional reporting on the tertiary's completion and compliance with the COEU's terms.

"This is a landmark decision. The COEU will support higher standards of health and safety at Otago Polytechnic and hopefully prevent further incidents of a similar nature from occurring again," Kelly said.

Otago Polytechnic was also ordered to pay the student $15,000 in reparation.

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