Port workers welcome port health and safety review

Lyttelton Port. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon.

Port workers are welcoming the government announcement of a range of actions to fix health and safety problems in New Zealand ports, following two deaths in ports in the last two weeks.

The Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Wood says the investigation will be held by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.

“All New Zealanders should return from work safe and unharmed. Recently we have seen a disproportionate number of injuries and fatalities in the port industry.

“The actions taken today will provide clarity on how we can reduce these serious incidents.

“We are sending a strong message to the port sector, every player must ensure they are doing all they can to reduce and manage risk.”

Maritime New Zealand officers and WorkSafe inspectors will be undertaking assessments at each of the 13 major international commercial ports around the country over the next fortnight.

Port companies are being asked to review their operations, and industry and worker representatives will be asked if regulatory changes are required.

In the last two weeks, there have two work place deaths in New Zealand ports – 26-year-old Atiroa Tuaiti died in Auckland on April 19, and a Lyttelton port worker died on April 25, both while at work on ships in port.

Maritime Union of New Zealand National Secretary Craig Harrison says both port workers killed on the job in the last fortnight were Maritime Union members.

Craig is attending a Workers’ Memorial Day service today at Ports of Lyttelton inside the port gates, where workmates of the man killed on Monday 25 April will gather.

He says after attending a service on the wharf for Atiroa Tuaiti in Ports of Auckland last week it was hard to see the effect on the workmates and loved ones.

“The human cost of these deaths is enormous and it has been painful to see the great hurt and grief of family and workmates.”

Craig says the Unions have been speaking with the government, employers and the Council of Trade Unions over the last few days and there is a recognition that change is needed now.

He says it's positive the leadership of Ports of Auckland and Port of Lyttelton are supporting the new health and safety initiatives.

Unions have also made a joint statement to express their unity and determination to prevent any more unnecessary deaths in New Zealand ports, and have stated their willingness to work with the Government’s initiatives.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union general secretary Wayne Butson says many of the workers who have died in New Zealand ports in recent years have been young people.

All were fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and had families and friends and workmates who have been left devastated by their loss, he says.

“Workers have a right to come home safely. These workers are carrying out essential work that our nation depends on. They have been failed by the system.”

Wayne says there are common systemic issues in the industry including staffing levels, fatigue due to excessive hours and shift work, productivity pressures, and failures around training and a safety culture.

Michael Wood says the TAIC investigation will provide an independent, safety focused approach to identifying wider circumstances and causes of the accident.

"TAIC investigations are systemic, independent and impartial, with extensive legal powers to gather and protect evidence.

“I know New Zealanders will be rightly concerned about the safety culture at our country’s ports. Today I met with port heads, unions, stevedore representatives and regulators to impress the need for an immediate shift to a safety first culture.

“Our ports play a crucial role in our economy, and as part of our economic recovery it is essential that they operate efficiently and safely. I want to acknowledge that there has been good process over recent months and I thank the sector for their continued engagement.

“Other sectors should also take notice from these recent events and remind themselves of their responsibilities to ensure the safety of their workplaces."

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