22 Apr 2024

Port of Auckland crane safety rule, guidance substandard - expert witness

8:39 pm on 22 April 2024
Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson is facing calls to resign after an indepedent report criticised workplace health and safety protocols as inadequate.

Maritime NZ has laid two charges against former Port of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson. Photo: RNZ / Nick Munro

A maritime expert says a Port of Auckland rule keeping workers a safe distance from cranes was not up to standard and not effectively taught to its staff in a trial following the death of one of its workers.

Anthony (Tony) Gibson is facing two charges laid by Maritime NZ for failing to use his influence as chief executive in 2020 to guide the company in a direction away from its health and safety problems before the death of Pala'amo Kalati that year.

The charges carry a combined maximum penalty of a $400,000 fine.

Kalati died while working as a lasher helping to secure shipping containers at the port.

On the night he died a container, which was still partially connected to the container below it, was accidentally picked up by a spreader crane before it fell and crushed him.

The 31-year-old father-of-seven had only worked as a lasher for about five months at the time of the accident, and had only one month's experience on the night shift.

Maritime NZ argued Gibson "failed to take the steps that a reasonable officer would have taken" to minimise the "critical" risks to health and safety that were present at the port.

Notably, it said he did not ensure a Port of Auckland rule prohibiting lashers from working three containers from an operating crane, was "clearly documented, effectively implemented, and appropriate to the hazard".

Expert witness John Riding from Marico Marine, while facing questions, said even the rule itself did not ensure a safe working area.

"You're going to be in a position at some stage where you're trying to lash something at the same point as when you have to drop the lashes and disappear almost.

"That's unsafe, and you've had evidence as well that says the lasher should never be anywhere near the crane," he said.

Riding said a worker could be in a nearby bay while still being three container lengths away, which would still be an unsafe place to be.

But regardless of the rule's wording, he said there were problems with how it was taught.

"It's a pretty easy diagram to lay out where a spreader would be and the fact that you would be three containers away from that. Assuming this is a perfect rule," he said.

"It's the simple analogy that a picture paints 1000 words, and without diagrams you tend to make your own interpretation."

But he also said there was no reason workers should have been lashing at the same time the crane was moving the containers in the first place.

"A crane finishes the loading, you have then got plenty of time to lash because when the ship's finished its cargo, it can still be lashing because it's going to take it two hours, three hours to clear," he said.

"So there's no time pressure or anything else affecting the income to the port or holding a ship up that's going to make that practice necessary."

He said he would expect training manuals to have an annual review with staff to go over the contents and an independent review to occur every five years.

Riding mentioned the "relatively high level," of injuries and fatalities in the industry and across New Zealand compared with other countries, which he partly blamed the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) system for.

He said New Zealand did not have a "liability-driven system," which "doesn't put the normal brakes on organisations that liability actually does have".

Questioning of Riding is expected to continue on Tuesday.