Details have emerged of a truck's "decrepit" and compromised control box that is believed to have played a significant role in the fatal crushing of a man in a workplace incident five years ago.
The worker's parents and former colleagues were among the people gathered at the Tauranga District Court today for the third day of a coronial inquest into his death.
On March 14, 2016, the worker, whose name is suppressed, was crushed between the rear of a swing-loader trailer and a shipping container at a Totara St site. The yard is owned by the Port of Tauranga and leased to the man's employer, Coda Operations Limited Partnership (Coda) in which Priority Logistics - owned by Coda - operates.
The death prompted a WorkSafe investigation and criminal court case, which resulted in Coda being fined $52,500 and ordered to pay $110,000 compensation to the man's whānau.
Plant manufacturer and supplier Hammar New Zealand Limited was also fined $25,600.
The control box is considered the electrical heart for the vehicle's safety sensors - which were brought into question today.
Counsel for the man's whānau Genevieve Haszard questioned Coda's former fleet manager Grant Maclachlan and quoted a statement from an auto electrician who investigated the swing-loader's control box after the worker's death.
"Clearly moisture has got into the box, as can be seen by the black staining. The inadequate - or no - covering of the box has compromised the wiring of the operation of the sensors," she said.
"[The auto electrician] says therefore the lack of proper maintenance in the electrial system is a significant cause of this incident. If moisture gets into the box, this will also cause faults. There is also staining on the wiring and clearly a complete overhaul of the electrical system should have been done."
When asked, Maclachlan said he accepted these observations.
But as more testimony was heard, doubts arose over whether the safety features were used at all.
Under questioning from Hammar's counsel Greg Stringer, Maclachlan said it was not unusual for drivers in the industry to manually turn off safety features while on the job.
"Some of them didn't quite work properly. They stopped an operator from actually swinging a container. I'm talking about broad terms here."
Coroner Matthew Bates asked Maclachlan: "Are you saying that around the time of 2016, you are saying safety features were quite routinely being turned off?"
Maclachlan replied, "Quite often, yes".
Stringer asked if it was fair to describe the state of the vehicle's electrical system as "decrepit". Maclachlan agreed but said he was not sure that was due to a lack of maintenance and repair.
The court heard work on electronics such as sensors in the swing-loader - also known as a side-loader - were outsourced to Mount Auto Electronics but called back before repairs could be done.
Yesterday, transport compliance manager for Coda, Ian Pauling, testified that he considered the worker to be experienced and fully competent in his work. However, he struggled emotionally to admit that the worker's actions in the moments before his death accounted to "gross negligence".
Pauling continued to give evidence today.
Counsel Peter Crombie, representing Mount Auto Electrical, said invoices from his client identified issues with sensors of some of the Priority Logistics fleet but noted those vehicles went back into operation without the necessary repair work after discussion with the company.
He asked Pauling why.
"The point I'm making is there is evidence that a unit with a damaged safety system was going back out on the road before the repair work was undertaken, prior to the accident - not post the accident - with Priority's knowledge," Crombie said.
"This is the swing-lift loader, the one [the worker] was driving on the day of the accident."
Pauling said swing-loaders were sometimes needed for basic transportation without necessarily using the swing-loading functions.
As Coroner Bates thanked Pauling and prepared to excuse him, Pauling spoke up to thank the worker's whānau - seated in the public gallery.
"It has been very hard. I've been preparing myself for this day. I'm glad I've had my chance to help you guys understand a bit better and I thank you very much."
The worker's father approached a microphone to acknowledge the gesture, saying "it has been a long time, a long time".
As Pauling returned to the public gallery, he and the worker's father embraced and shared a hongi.
The inquest continues.