30 Mar 2021

Ports of Auckland safety review finds systemic problems - Mayor Phil Goff

11:50 am on 30 March 2021

An Independent health and safety review has found the need for significant improvements at Ports of Auckland.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff talking about the Ports of Auckland safety review.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff talking about the Ports of Auckland safety review. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

The review found systemic problems relating to health and safety risk management and organisational culture relating to health and safety, Mayor Phil Goff has announced.

Goff said the review, conducted by Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ), found Ports of Auckland's health and safety approach didn't reflect the level of risk inherent in port operations and that it needed to be addressed.

Goff said Auckland Council would now hold the Ports' board to account.

"Health and safety rules that keep people safe are not 'a nice to have'. They are a vital component of good management in any workplace," Goff said.

"When someone goes to work, they should go back home to their families and loved ones.

"I have made it very clear to the Chair of the Ports that changes need to be made to the way the Ports run and it is my expectation that he and the board will hold management accountable for these changes. Council in turn will hold the board accountable."

He said the reviewers had made a number of recommendations, including new requirements for the Ports' chief executive to prioritise safety over productivity and profitability, improve trust and communication between management and staff, and for a new health and safety manager to report directly to the chief executive and the Board.

"Ports of Auckland chair Bill Osborne has acknowledged that the culture of health and safety at the Ports has been poor and has fully committed the board to implement the recommendations of the review," he said.

"I now expect Ports of Auckland to implement these recommendations without delay and more importantly to hold management to account on monitoring and compliance.

"Council will require from Ports a regular report on changes made and progress in implementing the recommendations in the review. These reports will be made public and will ensure the Ports are accountable for improving health and safety in their operations."

Speaking to media this morning, Goff pointed out there had been three deaths at the Ports in as many years.

One Goff said clearly reflected a lack of prioritisation of safety was the death of a swimmer Leslie Gelberger, hit by a harbour pilot boat in April 2017. He said the Maritime NZ report into the incident pointed a corporate culture that needed to be addressed.

"What I read in that report disturbed me. He was hit by a vehicle doing seven times the speed limit.

"This was an absolutely consistent pattern of breaking the law, in terms of the speed by the ports' boats and there were no systems in place, according to Maritime New Zealand to ensure that there were controls in an area that was dangerous."

He said CHASNZ had offered a blueprint for change within the Ports and said management had committed to implementing it recommendations.

The council had no legal power to involve itself in operational matters at the port, which operates under the Ports Companies Act , but it had governance and oversight as the 100 percent shareholder.

The council had already appointed managers within Ports of Auckland with a specialist health and safety focus and Goff said he was confident progress would be made, he added.

Goff also called for the 'dysfunctional' relationship of the Maritime Union and Port management to be addressed, as it was barrier to making progress.

Ports response

Board chairperson Bill Osborne and chief executive officer Tony Gibson.

Board chairperson Bill Osborne and chief executive officer Tony Gibson. Photo: RNZ / Nick Munro

Ports of Auckland released a statement affirming its commitment to responding to the review and acknowledged its failings identified in its findings.

Chairperson Bill Osborne said in doing so a 'difficult truth' must be faced.

"The relationship between the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) and Ports of Auckland has been a barrier to improving safety," he said.

"I would like to make it clear that the Board and management of Ports of Auckland accept this finding and acknowledge our role in this relationship. We are committed to working with the leadership and members of MUNZ, in partnership with the other unions and staff of Ports of Auckland, to create an organisational culture which supports strong, positive safety outcomes."

He also highlighted a need to improve trust between management and workers over a 'perception' profit had been put above the lives and wellbeing of staff.

"The report says the chief executive needs to tackle the perception that productivity and profitability are more important than safety," he said.

"We need to improve trust, communication, and engagement between executive management and frontline staff on health and safety, help change risky behaviours, and ensure the resources needed to make improvement are available."

Speaking to media this morning, chief executive Tony Gibson said he felt "a moral obligation to put this right" and find out why deaths had occurred and how improved safety measures could be implemented.

"I think we've failed and we clearly haven't listened," he said.

Osborne said no one action would solve the problem, but multiple actions taken to sequence would address systemic issues and change the Ports' culture. The report offered a road map for doing so and he said he was thankful it had allowed Ports management to identify where they had been going wrong.

"We have a cultural problem that we have to address immediately, but it won't happen overnight ... it takes a long time," he said.

Vanessa Matakatea, a senior manager in charge of safety and wellbeing, said she had been involved in "real conversations" with workers, who had raised most of the issues identified in the report.

Lack of ease in reporting concerns was big issue for workers, but the port had established structures where representations to management could be made in a safe environment.

A port health and safety sub-committee will meet and submit reports regularly to Auckland Council over progress.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs