A Tauranga-based stevedoring company has been fined after a 15 tonne excavator was dropped from a ship's crane, narrowly missing five workers on the wharf below.
C3 Limited was fined $240,000 by the Auckland District Court yesterday for the 2017 incident at Northport in Whangarei.
Maritime NZ northern regional compliance manager Neil Rowarth said the five workers had been in the drop zone moments before the excavator fell from the crane.
"This was seconds away from five workers almost certainly being killed. The incident happened because C3 did not adequately train some of its stevedores for working around cranes," Rowarth said in a Maritime NZ statement today.
"They did not clear the drop zone below the crane and allowed the excavator to be loaded incorrectly onto the crane. Cranes can be dangerous and people working with them must be properly trained," he said.
The incident happened when the log carrier Aster K was being loaded at Northport on July 16, 2017.
C3 pleaded guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act of exposing people to risk of death or serious injury (section 48).
Excavators are often loaded onto log carriers to help move and stack logs in the holds.
In this case, loading had been completed and one of the ship's cranes was being used to unload the excavator onto the wharf.
As loading the logs had finished the excavator's driver had left the worksite, however, he had not correctly positioned the excavator's boom so it could be safely lifted by the crane, the statement from Maritime NZ said.
When the excavator was lifted the load was unbalanced. It should have been level but the back of the excavator was higher than the front. An exclusion zone had been set up when the vessel was being loaded with logs but was no longer in place when the excavator was being unloaded.
From where he stood by the ship's crane, the C3 employee supervising the lift but could not see the part of the wharf where the excavator would be unloaded. Later, during Maritime NZ's investigation, he said he did not feel qualified or trained for the work he was doing.
Another C3 employee was on the wharf where the excavator would be unloaded. He was a trainee who had taken off his radio.
Neither of the two men could communicate with each other.
Meanwhile, four workers from a company providing biosecurity treatment for the logs and a welder doing repairs on the side of the ship were in the drop zone where the excavator would fall if the lift failed.
None of the five were warned that the excavator was about to be lifted and there were no controls to ensure that they, or anyone else, was clear of the drop zone.
The four biosecurity workers were in a fork hoist when one of them saw the excavator being lifted and moved by the crane. He immediately told the driver to reverse. At the same time, by chance, the welder left the side of the ship to fetch tools from his vehicle.
Seconds later the excavator fell off the crane and crashed down where the five workers had been.
"It was sheer good luck that no one was seriously injured or killed," Rowarth said.
"This is a striking example of employers' responsibilities to provide good workplace training and safe work practices.
"It should never be just 'good luck' that workers come home alive and unhurt," he said.
The Bay of Plenty Times contacted C3 Limited for comment, and the company provided the following statement:
"We acknowledge and accept the fine handed down by the District Court, following prosecution by Maritime New Zealand, and we deeply regret that the incident occurred.
"C3 is strongly committed to safety. In adherence with MNZ's guidance and industry standards, C3 continues to evolve our port operations across New Zealand."