A Port of Tauranga official has rejected a claim the company has the worst safety record for all port authorities in the country.
Recently released figures show there have been at least seven deaths and 133 serious accidents since 2011 at New Zealand ports, including two deaths and 26 accidents at the Port of Tauranga.
The most recent death involved ISO Ltd employee Douglas Hay, 59, who died days after sustaining head injuries when he fell 2.5 metres on August 16 this year while loading pulp.
In October 2012, a Genera worker needed surgery to reattach his foot, which was severed by a winch wire while he was working in the log yard.
Two Bay companies were prosecuted and ordered to pay $85,000 in fines and reparation.
Union officials and health and safety lawyer Hazel Armstrong said that, under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, the port authority had a legal obligation to ensure it took all practical steps to protect all workers from the risk of harm while working at the port.
Ms Armstrong said it was not acceptable for the port company to merely say it was a "landlord," as the company was legally responsible for hazard management and monitoring of health and safety compliance on the entire work site.
Port of Tauranga corporate services manager Sara Lunam said all but one of the 26 injuries since 2011 involved people who worked for different companies operating at the port.
Ms Lunam said the Port of Tauranga had the "lowest relative injury rate" of all the ports in New Zealand and the frequency rate of serious harm accidents had significantly improved in the past four years, down to about three a year.
"We're absolutely committed to safety in the port environment and set high standards, and expect them to be maintained, and as a responsible employer the port company takes its health and safety responsibilities very seriously.
"We make sure anybody operating in and around the port knows the health and safety rules ... and any breaches are treated seriously. But while we have a moral responsibility as a landlord, we cannot be expected to be ultimately held responsible for the actions of employees whose direct line of reporting is to their principal contractor or employer."
About 2000 employees work at the port but the port authority only directly employs about 180.
Ms Lunam said the port held monthly health and safety forums to help make it a safer workplace and the Port of Tauranga had been held up as a "role model" by WorkSafe New Zealand.
Maritime Union national secretary Joe Fleetwood said Ms Lunam's comments were unacceptable. He said continued denial from management of the principal owner Port of Tauranga to accept responsibility for what went on in its port was "grotesque".
"It is dishonest to claim the port is merely a landlord, when it operates a terminal as well as being a shareholder in related businesses including Port of Timaru," he said.
Mr Fleetwood said unless port companies were made to have a duty of care towards all workers - and contractors - then the situation would continue.
A WorkSafe New Zealand spokesperson said all companies must comply with health and safety laws, and the Government's new health and safety legislation will clarify the duties of businesses and individuals with regard to health and safety.
"This is particularly relevant to the port environment, where there are a range of companies and business activities on site," the spokesperson said.
Other Port of Tauranga incidents
*May 2013: A Filipino crewman on board a logging ship sustained serious lacerations after a mechanical fault with a crane-operated winch wire, which struck him across his chest and neck.
*March 2011: Two men were burned while carrying out a routine inspection on a ship.
*Dec 2010: A ship worker was injured after falling into the hold of a logging ship.
*Dec 2010: A Chinese seaman, 35, died after falling from the side of a logging ship into Tauranga Harbour.
*June 2010: Brian Kevin Shannon, 61, of Otumoetai, died from head and chest injuries after being run over by a forklift carrying a load.
*Oct 2009: An Ohauiti man received rib injuries after falling from a ship's cargo hatch.
*Dec 2003: Welcome Bay father-of-six Robert Diamond was killed after he was crushed beneath the wheels of a 16-tonne forklift.
Serious harm injury data relating to the frequency of accidents at Ports in New Zealand between 2011 and 2014. Source: Worksafe New Zealand