Port shores up safety strategy

Lyttelton Port of Christchurch has revised and strengthened its health and safety strategy after two port deaths and a serious injury.

Chief executive Peter Davie said that, after the deaths and accident within the port, management and the board had refreshed the strategy to take "a stronger leadership role right across the port with the variety of [port] users".

In response, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union said there had been some welcome health and safety initiatives by the listed port company in recent months, but the port industry was a high-risk one for workers.

Unions and the port would "no doubt cross swords" over staff safety at some point but would meanwhile work constructively together, the union's South Island organiser John Kerr said.

Last November 27, transport company owner Bill Frost, of Coalgate, died when he was pinned between a logging truck trailer and a forklift on the port's No 2 wharf.

On December 21, Lyttelton Stevedoring Services employee Warren Ritchie died from crushing-related injuries suffered while unloading fertiliser from a moored ship.

On January 4 a 21-year-old fork hoist worker suffered head injuries when a stacked container fell on to the cab of a forklift.

The port company was issued with WorkSafe New Zealand improvement notices relating to operational practices including container stacking at its city depot in Chapmans Rd.

Following the deaths and accident, the port announced it had spent $200,000 to $300,000 bolstering its health and safety budget. That had affected its first-half result.

Now it has taken a role making sure port-user groups have their own health and safety standards.

But, Davie said, there were some limits to the port company's umbrella role.

"Say someone like Z Energy, for example. It would be presumptuous for us to come over the top and say we don't think those are good enough, when they have their own national standards which are to a high level."

The new health and safety strategy was made public through the firm's release of a statement of intent (SOI) for the year to June 30, 2015, to the Christchurch City Council, which owns about 80 per cent of the port.

In the SOI, the port said that, after changes to legislation and a January board meeting, a decision was made to refresh the health and safety strategy.

Areas of focus included hazard and document management, incident reporting and the effectiveness of the company's Health and Safety Committee.

A health and safety report is presented to the board by the chief executive at all board meetings.

Union organiser Kerr said the port and union were working much more closely on training health and safety representatives. The appointment by the port of a former union delegate Paul Dennis as a health and safety manager was also positive.

"[But] the industry today is really dangerous. It's up there with mining and railways, so health and safety tends to have a really high profile and it's one of the reasons ports are unionised - all the evidence is that, if you don't involve organised labour, then health and safety just becomes seen as a compliance cost."

The changes in health and safety legislation meant there was more potential liability placed on company directors. "Part of the driver from the board will be self-interest."

A Worksafe New Zealand spokesman said the Government agency did not comment on the health and safety strategies of individual companies. He did not provide an update on the container incident.

Fairfax Media