Safety review after worker's death

20:18, Aug 29 2014
Brad Fletcher
DEDICATED MAN: Lyttelton volunteer firefighter Brad Fletcher with his son, Zavian. Fletcher, a Lyttelton Port of Christchurch employee, was the third person to be killed in a port accident in 10 months. 

Lyttelton Port of Christchurch (LPC) boss Peter Davie has given no thought to resigning after another death at the port.

Yesterday a union leader challenged the ability of Lyttelton Port's $1 million-a-year chief executive to do his job, and health and safety officials called for an urgent meeting.

LPC mechanic Brad Fletcher, who died in a scissor-lift accident on Thursday, was the third person killed at the port in less than a year. A fourth worker was seriously injured in January, when a dislodged container hit his cab at the port's Woolston container depot.

WorkSafe New Zealand said the deaths were ''unacceptable''.

It had issued the port five improvement notices, six prohibition notices and four written warnings this year.

WorkSafe has launched an investigation and will hold an urgent meeting with port managers on Tuesday.


Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the port was ''unsafe'' and the third fatality raised ''serious questions'' about its chief executive Peter Davie's ability to do the job.

''There are questions that should be asked about his ability to make that port safe for the workers who work in it,'' she said.

''It's the board's responsibility to ask [those questions].''

Davie told The Press his responsibility right now was to support staff. 

''I haven't had really time to think. It happened yesterday and I've spent time working with our people and will continue to do that,'' he said.

The company was ''shocked'', he said.

''Obviously we don't want accidents of any form and this is one we don't understand. Personally, emotionally it hits very hard.

''I have a role to lead staff and I have to ensure I lead them as much as possible through a very difficult time.''

Davie described Fletcher, a permanent employee of LPC for nine years, as a ''hell of a nice guy'' and somebody whom everybody liked and respected.

Fletcher was also a health and safety representative and had written the procedures for the area where the accident happened.

The company was struggling to comprehend the accident, for which no obvious reason had presented, Davie said.

''Technical people have had a look at it and can't say what happened. WorkSafe is bringing in a specialist engineer from Australia to look at the site.''

Fletcher was on a scissor-lift helping to start one of the straddle carriers. The operation had been performed twice before that day.

The lift has passed all its inspections and had cut out features if it got out of level. Fletcher had not been harnessed to the platform, but there was no requirement for that.

LPC had no direct contractual relationship with companies involved in two deaths at the port in the last year, Davie said.

Warren Ritchie, who died unloading urea from a ship last December, was employed by a stevedoring company over which LPC had no control ''whatsoever''.

The death of transport company owner Bill Frost last November, pinned between a logging truck and forklift, was caused by a driver cutting a corner.

It could have happened on a public road, Davie said.

'What we can do is work with them [contractors] and say, 'How can we improve their safety processes?'''

Davie said in common-use areas, LPC worked with independent operators to ensure they knew its safety procedures.

''In certain areas they have a lot more expertise than we do. For example, unloading general cargo is not a job that we do.''

Contractors employing casual staff at the port were now part of a working party and were asked about their staff training and how often the staff were working.

LPC would audit the operations, he said.

Davie said he was confident LPC had enough staff, that its machinery was safe and staff sufficiently trained to work safely.

No staff had contacted the company after Thursday's incident to say they would not work in the port because of safety concerns, Davie said.

Starting the straddle carriers using scissor lifts had been stopped until ''we understand what happened.''

WorkSafe's acting chief executive Brett Murray said the latest death was ''particularly concerning'' as WorkSafe had been working actively at the port.

''Ports are an inherently dangerous working environment but these deaths are completely unacceptable,'' he said.

"There are clearly serious risks at the port that need to be effectively managed and we want to ensure the port company is doing this."

The face-to-face meeting would be a chance for WorkSafe to ''set out clearly our expectations of the port, and seek a commitment from the company about how it will respond to the ongoing health and safety issues at the facility''.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has cancelled a planned ''Port Talk'' at Lyttelton today.


Firemen grieve for big buddy Brad

Brad Fletcher was a giant of a man who found his feet helping people, his devastated colleagues say.

The 40-year-old volunteer firefighter and father of three was killed after the scissor-lift he was in toppled over at Lyttelton Port on Thursday.

Five members of his brigade arrived at the scene, only to discover their friend was the victim.

Yesterday, Fletcher's two station officer helmets lay with notes, flowers and cards strewn around them in the Lyttelton Volunteer Fire Brigade's hall.

The brigade was stood down from the day's duties so they could mourn their mate. Many took the day off to grieve.

Chief fire officer Mark Buckley said the firefighters were rallying around Fletcher's wife, Anita, and three sons, Kadin, 21, Cody, 15, and Zavian, 13.

"We are one big family" he said. "It affects one, it affects all."

Tears welled in Buckley's eyes as he recalled his friend - the first serving volunteer fire brigade member to be killed in an accident in about 40 years.

Fletcher, who was about 2 metres tall, was known by the nicknames Frank (after the bumbling television character Frank Spencer) or Big Bad Brad.

In the days immediately after the earthquake on February 22, 2011, he worked tirelessly to help the community, alternating nights at home and at the fire station.

In a book about the Lyttelton firefighters' experiences, Fletcher spoke of his desire to help.

"Anita and I had talked about what would happen if there was a major disaster and she knew that as an officer in the brigade, people in Lyttelton would be counting on me and my crews."

Fletcher was awarded a citation for his efforts.

"He'd found his feet as far as his ability to help people," Buckley said.

"The effect of his loss is really horrendous because not only was he a large part of the brigade, he was very much involved in the rugby club and he was the president of the Maritime Union of New Zealand Lyttelton branch.

"He was a very strong person, strong-willed but also . . . led by his heart. Very loyal to his workmates, his colleagues, his fellow firefighters. All around he was just a good person, a really good person."

Fletcher, who was a fourth generation Lytteltonian, was approaching 25 years' service and soon to be awarded his silver bar. The fire brigade went to the station in uniform on Thursday night and lowered their flag to half-mast. A moment of silence was held.

Buckley last saw Fletcher a week before his death.

Fletcher was teasing Buckley about how he was refusing to shout drinks when they got to their next 100th callout. "We'd done 99 at that point. I said ‘I wasn't going to shout' so Brad was ripping into me saying ‘you don't get a choice, that's how it's going to be'.

"Unfortunately, Brad was the 100th call." Buckley shouted drinks on Thursday night. "I couldn't let him down."

The Press