6 Apr 2021

Worker injured at Auckland port two days after damning report on safety concerns

From Checkpoint, 5:15 pm on 6 April 2021

An ambulance was called to treat an injured worker at the Ports of Auckland last week - just two days after a damning report revealed widespread safety concerns.

Ports of Auckland

The Ports of Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Kymberlee Fernandes

The Ports have been linked to three deaths in recent years and last Tuesday an independent health and safety review found the need for significant improvements.

Ports' chief executive Tony Gibson said things would change but on Thursday a stevedore fell six feet through a rusted hatch on a ship.

Maritime Union Auckland spokesman Grant Williams said she landed on her tailbone and suffered a number of injuries.

"Her arm, her thumb, shin, ankles, not life threatening [but] serious enough to be off work, but she's doing all right, she's in good spirits right now," Williams said.

The ship was supposed to have been inspected by a supervisor - and Williams said the buck stopped with the Ports.

"Ports of Auckland have a responsibility to maintain a safe workplace and she was able to be injured so you could argue that they had some responsibility."

It's understood the injured worker was taken to hospital in an ambulance but is now recovering at home.

In a statement, the Ports of Auckland said fortunately the stevedore only received minor injuries in the incident - with a further inspection of the ship revealing other hatches were also corroded.

The vessel was issued with an improvement notice and Ports of Auckland staff were withdrawn from work in the affected areas.

Checkpoint has spoken to a worker who saw the state of the ship and said the stevedore was lucky her injuries were not much worse, with a multitude of safety issues onboard - more corroded hatches, unsecured walkways and problems with handrails.

The stevedore involved was not keen to speak about the incident, and staff who have worked at the Ports said they understood why.

Auckland man Matt was a stevedore at the Ports from 2013 to 2018 - it was a job he loved, but he said he was punished when he raised safety concerns.

"Things were going rather well down there but they came grinding to a halt one day when I put in a health and safety concern about working by myself with the workload that I had," Matt said.

"From that day on I was stuck on one machine for the next couple of years before I left."

Matt was not impressed when he heard Gibson last week say he was not aware of how bad the safety situation was at the Ports, and contacted Checkpoint to share his experience.

He was not surprised to hear people were still getting injured there and did not think anything would change unless management changed, he said.

"A lot of the time they always try to blame the stevedores for things that go wrong down there but when you have the management about the stevedores pushing - and the attitudes of some of the people in those positions aren't the best, you're still going to have the same problems recurring."

Other workers said they had also been given the cold shoulder after speaking up - Tua Dyer spoke to Checkpoint this year about his safety concerns.

His brother Laboom Dyer died at the Ports in 2018 and he said Ports staff did not make it easy for him to return to work.

"I messaged them about a meeting about my first couple of days when I went back and they didn't even respond to that and that didn't even end up happening - and I said I was having mental troubles when I was down there."

Dyer had worked at the Ports for about five years but stopped after another death on the Ports last August.

He was in discussions with Ports staff about returning this year but said once he spoke to Checkpoint his swipecard stopped working and any talk of his training to return to the job stopped.

"It definitely feels like I'm on the back end of things now that I've spoken out."

In a statement, the Ports of Auckland said the vessel the stevedore was injured on had previously been worked at Lyttelton port and was then inspected on arrival in Auckland. 

A spokesperson said the corrosion issue was not discovered by the Ports of Auckland or reported to them.

The statement also said Dyer "quit last year and should not be surprised that his card doesn't work".

It said the Port encouraged safety matters to be reported and that people could take their concerns further if they felt they were not being taken seriously.

Maritime New Zealand said it was investigating Thursday's incident at the Ports.