Port worker made mistakes: manager

Last updated 16:41 27/05/2014
Mark Samoa
MARK SAMOA: The CentrePort worker was crushed to death in January last year.

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The forklift driver who accidentally crushed a co-worker on the Wellington waterfront should have been standing by waiting for the other man to finish his work, a port manager says.

In Wellington District Court today CentrePort's general manager of port operations, Steve Harris, outlined the way the work should have been done the morning that Mark Samoa, 47, was crushed to death.

Harris said the forklift driver had made mistakes and broken work rules at the time of the accident soon after midnight on January 20 last year.

However, the company was charged with failing to take all practicable steps to avoid a hazard to Samoa.

It has pleaded not guilty at a hearing that is now in its third week.

The forklift with side clamps had been used to shift packs of paper pulp each weighing more than four tonnes. The packs were laid out for Samoa to paste labels on them.

Judge Bill Hastings has been told there should have been at least two packs' distance between the forklift and labeller.

But when Samoa was killed, the driver went back to the first pack he had laid out because it was "bugging" him that it was not straight in the line. He should not have gone into the labeller's work area without seeing where Samoa was, Harris said.

The packs were stacked two high, and their height meant the driver could not see what was behind them as he pushed the two along the ground.

Harris said CentrePort's rules were that that packs had to be lifted, never pushed along the ground. The packs were bound with wire straps that could heat up and be a fire risk if scraped along the ground.

In its investigation of the accident, CentrePort learned that a small number of workers had pushed the packs along the ground.

Forklift drivers were also allowed to only shift one pack at a time. The forklifts would not lift two packs.

In a re-enactment with police later, the forklift was almost incapable of pushing two packs but unfortunately not completely incapable, Harris said.

Had the top pack been moved first, Samoa would have realised the forklift was working on the stack right next to him, he said.

The company investigation found all staff knew they were supposed to be able to see their co-workers but there was no single understanding of what was to happen if visual contact was lost.

Some staff knew they were to stop work and find the co-worker, some said they would toot the horn to get the co-worker to show themselves, and some said they would proceed with caution.

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In the 15 years CentrePort had the paper pulp contract there had been no near-misses or incidents reported concerning the labelling procedure, Harris said.

EMOTIONAL MORNING

This morning, Harris spoke emotionally of being in the group that went to tell Samoa's family of his death.

Harris' voice cracked as he described the morning he had gone with police and victim support workers to tell Samoa's sister and then his partner that he had died.

Harris said the company had done everything it could to support the family and it had been humbled by the way the family had reacted.

Part of the process had been trying to fill the "void" of information about how the accident had happened. The company had prepared an interim report for the family.

Earlier in the hearing CentrePort's lawyer had objected to the interim report being evidence in the case. Judge Bill Hastings allowed the report to be evidence but said its value may be diminished because of the way it was prepared and the intended purpose.

The driver was not charged with any offence and no longer works for CentrePort.

The company has lost the pulp pack contract which is now done at Napier.

The hearing is continuing.

- The Dominion Post

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