MPI fined after workers exposed to hazardous chemicals during Mycoplasma bovis cleaning

Eight workers sustained burns to hands, wrists, and arms in a 2018 incident.
Eight workers sustained burns to hands, wrists, and arms in a 2018 incident. Photo credit: File / Getty

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has been fined $30,000 after workers were exposed to hazardous chemicals during efforts to manage an outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis in 2018.

MPI was sentenced in the Invercargill District Court on Thursday.

The fine came after MPI contracted biosecurity company AsureQuality in 2017 to manage an outbreak of the cattle disease. AsureQuality then engaged the company OneStaff to provide temporary workers to assist with cleaning and disinfecting work.

In May 2018, a group of staff were cleaning a farm in Invercargill, using a sodium hydroxide-based cleaner called X-Clean DOO AWAY, which had in April been approved by MPI as a cleaning product, WorkSafe said in a statement on Thursday.

"The workers were given personal protective equipment, including gloves. However, the chemicals seeped into the cuffs of the workers' gloves and as a result, eight workers sustained burns to hands, wrists, and arms."

A WorkSafe investigation found MPI failed to adequately consult, cooperate and coordinate with the other parties to ensure the work was being carried out safely. MPI also failed to ensure a safe system of work for the OneStaff workers.

Steve Kelly, WorkSafe’s investigation manager for the South Island, said although both MPI and AsureQuality were working together it was unclear which organisation was managing the risks involved with the operation.

"As the organisation tasked with managing the eradication of Mycoplasma bovis it is fair to have expected them to ensure cleaning and disinfecting work was carried out safely.

"When multiple businesses and organisations are involved in carrying out work it is vital they communicate with one another to ensure risk has been identified and is being correctly managed."

AsureQuality received a $66,000 fine in November in relation to the same incident, while OneStaff was also fined $38,500.

The three companies were also ordered to pay a third each of reparations of $5000, to be split between five of the victims.