30 Oct 2014

Port accidents climb as profits soar

7:13 pm on 30 October 2014

Profits at New Zealand ports are soaring but figures show there have been at five deaths and more than 100 incidents reported to WorkSafe as serious harm since 2011.

Port of Tauranga is expecting its current full-year profit to be between $78 million and $83 million, while other ports also expect big profits this year.

Official information released to the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union details accidents reported to WorkSafe at ports including Tauranga, Lyttelton, Auckland and Wellington.

In the past year, there have been at least three deaths at the Lyttelton Port of Christchurch and 24 accidents since 2011.

Port of Tauranga - New Zealand's busiest - had the most accidents, with 26. At least two people have died there since 2011 including one man who fell 2.5 metres in August and another who was struck by a grader in 2011.

The official information also shows that a worker's foot got pulled into a tractor winch in Tauranga in 2012, cutting it off. A person's hand also had to be amputated in Tauranga in June this year.

Former port contractor Billy Russell was the first on the scene at the Port of Tauranga when a man died after being run over by a forklift. He said he is not surprised by the number of accidents or their details.

Mr Russell, who has not worked at the port for several years but still has relatives who work there, said it remained a dangerous place and safety needed to be taken more seriously.

Port of Tauranga corporate services manager Sara Lunam said all but one of the 26 injuries were to people who work for different organisations on or around the port.

She said the port company was not responsible for the activities of those companies but was concerned about safety in its area.

Unions demand review

The two major unions at ports, Rail, Maritime and Transport Union and the Maritime Union, want a sector-wide safety review similar to the one carried out into the forestry industry.

Rail, Maritime and Transport Union secretary Wayne Butson said the details of accidents shows that ports in New Zealand are extremely dangerous places to work.

The figures do not include deaths or serious accidents which happen on the water because they are reported to Maritime New Zealand. The union estimated that there have been at least another three deaths on the water, bringing the total number to 10.

Mr Butson said the union was still waiting to get information from Maritime New Zealand and, until then, they have yet to see the full picture of accidents and deaths. He said there isn't full reporting, so the information they have was probably only the tip of the iceberg.

Both Mr Butson's union and the Maritime Union are demanding a sector-wide safety review, similar to one in the forestry industry.

Maritime Union secretary Joe Fleetwood said ports needed to be made safer.

"It can't be all about profits. People are dying in the industry, and it must be a full review of what's happening in the ports. Everyone must be held accountable," Mr Fleetwood said.

Port Nelson has had five accidents reported to WorkSafe. Chief executive Martin Byrne said they did not include accidents reported by contractors but that they knew what went on at the site.

Mr Byrne said the accident levels in the ports and forestry sectors were too high at the moment and they were working on improving safety.

One prosecution under way

WorkSafe New Zealand chief executive Gordon MacDonald said at least one prosecution against a port was under way, and there could be more.

There was one case open against CentrePort in Wellington in connection with the death of Mark Samoa, who was hit by a forklift last year, Mr MacDonald said.

There could be more prosecutions but he did not want to prejudge the outcome of any investigations, he said.

Meanwhile, a man was being hit by a container on a ship at Port of Timaru. It was not known how badly he was injured.

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