The gluten-free bread producer supplies to supermarkets and stores across New Zealand. Photo / Michael Craig
WARNING: This story contains graphic details that might be upsetting to some readers.
A gluten-free bakery that supplies bread and pizza bases to supermarkets and grocery stores across New Zealand has been fined tens of thousands of dollars after two workers’ hands were caught and mangled in machinery.
One worker’s hand was sucked into a seed grinder at Bakeworks’ kitchen in the West Auckland suburb of Henderson in January 2021.
“Every day I grieve for my hand,” one woman wrote in a harrowing victim impact statement prepared for Bakeworks’ sentencing at the Waitākere District Court on Wednesday afternoon.
She still suffers from flashbacks and nightmares, haunted by “the sound of [her] bones breaking”.
The court heard the 28-year-old mother was operating a seed grinder in January 2021 when her gloved left hand was caught and sucked into the machine.
All four fingers and the top of her palm were severed before she managed to locate the switch and turn the machine off with her other hand.
Colleagues rushed her to hospital but her fingers, too badly damaged after they were extracted from the grinder, could not be re-attached.
“My hand was turned to mince meat in the seed grinder,” the victim said, spending three “painful, horrifying and lonely” months in hospital and undergoing seven operations in total.
Reading from a court summary, Judge Grant Fraser said Bakeworks bought the grinder in 2018. The safety guard at the entry to the grinder opening broke within months of purchase, but was never replaced.
Only five months after the grinder incident, in June 2021, a second worker was using the dough portioner when the tip of her middle finger was severed.
Thinking she had paused the machine, the woman reached under and into it to try to get to dough that was stuck.
But the machine was not paused – it didn’t show any visual indication even if it was, the judge said – and the pneumatic guillotine sliced off the tip of her middle finger.
She was sent to hospital with her finger packed in ice, but it could not be re-attached because of the risk of necrosis to the rest of her hand.
She told the court she cries every time someone notices her missing finger and she has to explain what happened.
“Why is there no warning, no sign on the machine [that it was still on]?” she wrote, “I just want my finger back.”
Bakeworks Limited’s directors David Harris and Kirsten Unger sat in the public gallery as the company was sentenced at the Waitākere District Court on Wednesday afternoon.
Judge Fraser said Bakeworks’ culpability was at the high end of the medium culpability band – both machines should have had adequate safety guards installed and maintained, and workers should have been properly trained to use them.
“The hazard was obvious to the defendant, and action should have been taken,” he said.
He ordered fines totalling some $620,000 for both incidents, reduced to $36,000 to be paid over three years – on the grounds that Bakeworks has provided evidence it was unable to pay the full fine.
The bakery will also pay about $10,000 in legal and court costs.
The judge did not order any emotional harm reparations, saying both women have received support payments from Bakeworks far exceeding what prosecutors have asked for.
“Despite the deficiencies in practice, the employer has gone to extraordinary lengths to support and assist both victims,” he said, “That’s laudable.”