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Ex-NSW Nationals chair in court after worker injured

Miklos BolzaAAP
Tamworth egg farmer Bede Burke is facing court action over a worker's serious injury. (PR HANDOUT)
Camera IconTamworth egg farmer Bede Burke is facing court action over a worker's serious injury. (PR HANDOUT) Credit: AAP

A former NSW Nationals chair whose worker lost the full use of his left hand while repairing a manure conveyor has been brought before court by SafeWork.

The accident is alleged to have occurred on January 15, 2020, at an egg farm run by Bede Burke and his wife Narelle near Tamworth.

According to court documents seen by AAP, employee Desmond Saunders was attempting to repair the four-metre high conveyor while standing on a forklift and pallet.

His hand was sliced open and a finger fractured after being caught on the moving belt and dragged underneath the drum roller.

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He was taken to Tamworth Hospital and required multiple surgeries and the reconstruction of his left shoulder.

“Saunders has not returned to work and has been left with a permanent impairment of his left hand,” agreed facts filed with the court say.

While Burke, who was chair of the NSW Nationals from 2014 to 2019, was notified of the incident, he allegedly did not inform SafeWork.

Instead, the accident was brought to the agency’s attention by a member of Mr Saunder’s family on January 21.

SafeWork brought criminal proceedings against Burke last year which are now progressing through the Downing Centre District Court.

In the lawsuits, the 63-year-old is also accused of failing to ensure the site was left undisturbed until the agency’s inspectors arrived.

The forklift and pallet were later moved and the conveyor repaired by another farmhand.

Burke has also been accused of failing to comply with his health and safety duties.

Mr Saunders and another worker, John Wood, were working in the “danger zone” of the conveyor as the machine was turned on and off by Richard Burke at a control panel in a chicken shed 15 metres away.

“There was no electrical or mechanical means, or safe system of work in place, to isolate the manure conveyor during its repair or maintenance,” the agreed facts state.

“(Mr Saunders and Mr Wood) were standing on the elevated pallet, and were exposed to entanglement, pinch and shear hazards within the machinery.”

A work platform which included guard rails was also available on the premises but was not used.

No pleas have been entered.

The matter will next come before the court on March 16.

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