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

The tertiary institute appeared at 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 2015 (HSWA) in lieu of a fine – the first to be ordered under the HSWA.

In April 2018 the student was using a draw saw to cut a length of timber. A WorkSafe investigation found the machine wasn’t adequately guarded, allowing the student’s fingers to slip in front of the blade. The student sustained partial amputation to his middle finger on his left hand as well as cuts and grazes in the incident. His finger was later re-attached in hospital.

The COEU will see Otago Polytechnic spend a minimum of $275,000 on health and safety measures and initiatives, including scholarships, awareness campaigns and safety training.

WorkSafe’s Chief Inspector Steve Kelly said learning institutions offering these kinds of courses should be held to the highest health and safety standards.

“As part of WorkSafe’s investigation it was discovered that Otago Polytechnic’s risk assessments for that machine were ineffective and the machine was not adequately guarded.

“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.

Mr Kelly said the terms of the COEU require Otago Polytechnic to report to the court every six months over a two year period, with additional reporting from an independent auditor as to Otago Polytechnics completion and compliance with the terms of the COEU.

“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.”

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


  • COEU in lieu of a fine.
  • Reparation of $15,000 were ordered.
  • Costs of $3,432.45 ordered.
  • Otago Polytechnic was sentenced and convicted under sections 36(2), 48(1) and (2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
    • Being a PCBU having a duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of other persons, is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking, namely operating the Wadkin draw saw in the carpentry department, did fail to comply with that duty, and that failure exposed any individual, to a risk of serious injury arising from exposure to a cutting hazard created by inadequate machine guarding.
  • S 48(2)(c) carries a maximum penalty of $1,500,000.

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