4 Mar 2021

Ports of Auckland on notice after serious safety issues - Wood

From Checkpoint, 5:26 pm on 4 March 2021

Ports of Auckland is being warned it must accept all findings and recommendations of a review into health and safety.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood is warning the port is on notice after serious safety issues. 

Auckland Council initiated a review into safety at the port following the deaths of two workers in recent years.

Workers have told Checkpoint they are worried nothing will change and the pressure to move freight quickly could cost more lives. 

Wood said he expected all recommendations of the independent review to be adopted, and anything short of that would be intolerable. 

"That [review] will tell us the story I expect and tell us what needs to change to make sure that this workplace is safe, and that we do not expect or accept further fatalities or serious injuries," he said. 

"There have been prosecutions which have successfully gone through the courts, which has spoken to a failure to follow through on the duties that are imposed on the Ports of Auckland as an employer. That is unacceptable. And that is why I was very pleased that Auckland Council took the leadership and took this death last year to launch an independent review. 

"There needs to be a total commitment to making any changes that are recommended through that process."

Mayor Phil Goff has claimed the report will pave the way for change. The report is with the chief executives of the council and the port for them to fact check. 

Wood said he will be keeping a close eye on the port's workplace health and safety response, following the release of the report, as he has not seen progress at the port to date. 

"The stories that have come out of the situation are just tragic, when you listen to the accounts of the families who have lost people who are absolutely dear to them," Wood said. 

"What we can glean from some of the court cases that have gone through here is that there have been issues around the incentive culture where people are effectively being encouraged to do more and do it faster in what was a high-risk environment." 

"In my view if there is anything less than a complete acceptance and a complete willingness to change practice, to look after the wellbeing and health and safety of workers there, that will be intolerable.

"When you've had a situation where you've had multiple fatalities and when your owner… is a public body as well - when a report is commissioned on that basis when it's dealing with such serious matters you would be expecting the entity to take full account of it."

He said if the port used legal resources to "frustrate" the release of the health and safety report that would be "unacceptable and intolerable". 

Some incidents at the port included a container not being secured, an automated straddle crane driving into a retaining wall, and a container falling on a worker. None were investigated by WorkSafe NZ. 

Wood said that was new information to him, and something he would be happy to raise with WorkSafe. 

"What I would say is that WorkSafe have taken the issues at the port seriously. We've seen them undertake prosecutions where we've had fatalities on the port. And I'll be working with them to make sure that they have the appropriate oversight.

"WorkSafe and Maritime NZ work together to make sure that the health and safety is regulated and investigated properly, you don't necessarily want to have a situation where you have two regulators overlapping and effectively doing the same thing at the same time. 

"The key thing would be to make sure that there is oversight and investigation where required."