"Shortcomings" of safety sensors on a truck involved in the death of a worker crushed at a Port of Tauranga site five years ago were the focus of the first day of a coronial inquest.
The man, whose name remains suppressed, was crushed between the rear of a swing loader trailer and a shipping container at the site in Totara St on March 14, 2016.
The Mount Maunganui site was owned by the port but leased to the man's employer Coda Operations Limited Partnership [Coda].
At the opening of the inquest at the Tauranga District Court yesterday, Coroner Matthew Bates addressed the man's tearful whānau and apologised for the delay in getting to this point.
"It's been a long time coming. It's in excess of five years since [the deceased] passed away. That's a long time. I can only apologise for the delay. I hope we can progress matters and bring some sense of closure to everyone but particularly whānau."
Two whānau members stood in the public gallery, at times holding each other, as an emotional karakia was held before the inquest formally began.
A summary of facts was read to the court by senior constable Janine Treloar.
The summary said as the worker activated the truck's swing loader by remote control, a shipping container that had been lifted up about 1.4m fell and dragged the loader with it, lifting the left rear wheels off the ground.
The worker tried to get out of the way but he was crushed between the rear of the trailer as it tipped over an adjacent container.
Another worker rushed to the injured man's aid and called for emergency services but the man died of massive crush injuries to his abdomen and lower chest area, the court heard.
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 after admitting it failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the plant was designed, made and maintained so it was safe for its intended use.
Mechanical engineer Ron du Plessis worked for Coda from 2016 to 2017 as the general manager of operations. He headed an internal investigation into the incident.
He told the court yesterday the investigation found there were "shortcomings in the safety sensor system" on the swing loader.
This included some proximity sensors in which the wiring had been done in "reverse".
The inquest is the first time Coda has publicly disclosed the results of its investigation.
Du Plessis also said he was told by drivers during the investigation that tin foil was sometimes placed on sensors of trucks in the fleet to deactivate them.
"It seemed as if the New Zealand Number 8 wire approach may have played a part," he said.
The coroner clarified there was no suggestion the worker who died had used tinfoil on sensors.
The court also heard some drivers preferred to raise maintenance issues directly with the in-house workshop rather than following standard to enter them into a logbook.
Under questioning from counsel Ben Finn, representing WorkSafe, du Plessis said it was possible the worker who died raised concerns about the truck with the workshop and not in the logbook.
Du Plessis said that while Coda used a workshop for most repairs and maintenance, the workshop did not work on electrics such as sensors. This work was outsourced to other companies including manufacturer and supplier Hammar and Mount Auto Electrical.
However, Coda had not contacted Hammar about the truck, or sensor issues, since 2014.
Greg Stringer, representing Hammar, questioned du Plessis and confirmed the truck would have carried out thousands of lifts since it was last seen by Hammar and the sensors and condition could have become markedly different by 2016.
Stringer read a report into the state of the truck that stated the electronic systems were in "poor condition", a rope had been placed around the box and that moisture had got inside.
"The proximity sensors were broken or faulty and rather than replacing it they have simply bypassed the system so the hydraulic arms of the machine continued to operate."
On the day the worker died while operating stability arms in the yard, he had positioned himself in a highly dangerous location — to the rear of the truck, du Plessis said.
This action "would not have been possible if safety sensors had been functioning", he said.
Under questioning from Genevieve Haszard, acting as counsel for the dead man's whānau, du Plessis said all trucks were checked after the incident and no faults were found in any other swing loaders.
The issues with the truck involved in the tragedy were an "anomaly", he said.
Du Plessis said: "It's clear that during its lifespan, the vehicle's sensors weren't working from time to time. I felt - this is my view - there was some part from Mount Auto Electrical to point out that safety systems were not working. Even as late as December 2015, if a machine is assessed and repaired, reports provided by Mount Auto Electrical, they should have checked the vehicle was safe to be used before they released it."
Peter Crombie, acting for Mount Auto Electrical, asked du Plessis: "But if they aren't told about it ... they aren't going to know, are they?"
Du Plessis replied: "If a sensor was not working at this time, I would expect a good operator in this industry to advise us."
Crombie said: "If they have identified the problem."
Crombie said his client was instructed by Coda they wanted the vehicle back quickly to keep its downtime to a minimum. This was disputed by du Plessis.
The inquest continues.