Lyttelton Port workers were jump-starting a straddle-crane when the scissor-lift Brad Fletcher was in toppled over and threw him from a height, Fairfax Media understands.
Fletcher, a mechanic, health and safety representative and volunteer firefighter, was killed while working with another employee on one of the port's cranes on Friday.
A port worker, who could not be named because of a confidentiality clause in his contract, said he understood Fletcher was working on a straddle-crane with another employee who was not in the scissor-lift.
The cranes extend up to 11 metres high and it was thought the lift would have to be near its maximum height when it toppled over.
It was not clear what had caused the accident or who was at fault, the worker said.
The port has about 20 straddle-cranes, which remove containers from ships.
WorkSafe New Zealand has called the incident "completely unacceptable" and launched an investigation.
It will meet port officials today.
Fletcher's death was the third at the port in the last year and WorkSafe had issued the port with five improvement notices, six prohibition notices and four written warnings.
The same worker raised concerns before Fletcher's death, saying the port's lack of health and safety reforms meant many were scared for their lives every time they went on the job.
Lyttelton Port of Christchurch (LPC) had invested about $200,000 in health and safety measures after several serious incidents, including two deaths, but the worker said the money was spent on personnel and did nothing to solve real issues at the port.
"There is a disconnect between senior levels of management," he said. The number of 65-tonne straddle-carriers had more than doubled to about 20 in less than 10 years but they still operated within almost the same amount of space, the worker said.
"There are near-misses almost every day but people don't report because they can't be bothered," he said.
If the straddle-cranes collide, workers can be crushed.
LPC refused to comment on the worker's allegations, saying it had provided "extensive comment" on health and safety issues during an interview with chief executive Peter Davie in June.
He told The Press last week the company was struggling to comprehend the accident, for which no obvious reason had presented.
WorkSafe said it would not comment on an ongoing inquiry.
An Fairfax Media investigation earlier this year revealed a lack of training and safety policies. Inexperienced workers were being pressured to work back-to-back shifts while others were retiring early because of perceived risks.
- The Press