Probe begins on recent port fatalities in NZ

Workplace minister calls for 'safety-first' culture in NZ ports

Probe begins on recent port fatalities in NZ

New Zealand's Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has commenced probe following the recent fatal workplace accidents at the Lyttelton Port and Ports of Auckland over the past weeks.

The investigation came at the request of Transport and Workplace Safety Minister Michael Wood, which ordered the commission to determine any system-wide lessons to improve safety.

"The TAIC investigation will provide an independent, safety-focused approach to identifying wider circumstances and causes of the accident," said Wood in a statement. "TAIC investigations are systemic, independent and impartial, with extensive legal powers to gather and protect evidence."

According to TAIC, a team of investigations will travel to both accident sites starting with Lyttelton on April 28, where they will gather evidence, secure records and recordings, as well as speak with people who may be knowledgeable about the accidents.

"When the inquiry is complete, the commission’s final report will address the circumstances and causes of the accidents, identify any safety lessons in these particular cases and at a system level across the sector," read TAIC's statement on Thursday.

"If necessary, the commission will make recommendations for changes to improve transport safety."

'Safety-first culture'

The probe is only one of the three actions taken by the government following the "disproportionate number of injuries and fatalities in the port industry," according to Wood.

The minister said they have also requested all port companies to review their operations and provide assurances that appropriate steps are taken to minimise the risk for all high-risk activities. He also asked the Ports Leadership Group to come up with advice on the priority actions for Wood to consider, including whether legislative changes are required.

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In addition, the official said that Maritime New Zealand officers and WorkSafe inspectors will be assessing the 13 major international commercial ports across the country to ensure safety of personnel.

"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," said Wood.

According to the minister, he already met with port heads, unions, stevedore representatives, and regulators to stress the need for an "immediate shift to 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," he said.

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

Union welcomes actions

The Maritime Union of New Zealand said in a statement that it welcomes the probe carried out by the government over the previous workplace accidents.

It also welcomed the government's other actions to fix the health and safety problems in New Zealand's ports.

Meanwhile, Craig Harrison, national secretary of the Maritime Union of NZ, said in a statement that they are positive the "leadership of Ports of Auckland and Port of Lyttelton are supporting the new health and safety initiatives."

According to Harrison, the two workers killed in the separate tragic accidents were both members of Maritime Union, and he will be attending the Workers' Memorial Day service for the Lyttelton employee.

He previously visited the service for the Ports of Auckland employee last week, and said it was hard to see its effect on the employee's 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," said Harrison.

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