Ports of Auckland’s leaders denied putting profits before safety today, contradicting the findings of the independent health and safety review, before backtracking with CEO Tony Gibson saying he felt sick when he first read it.
The independent health and safety review, which was released this morning, found the Ports had a culture of putting productivity and profitability over health and safety, as well as problems with risk management after two deaths on the port in three years.
Ports chairman Bill Osborne said it was “certainly not the case” when asked if profit was prioritised over safety.
“That is certainly not the case, we’ve invested heavily in making sure the place is safe and secure, tunnels to keep our people safe away from straddles, we’ve introduced lash platforms to keep our people safe and recently what we’ve down is reduce the hours of work and given two consecutive days off,” Gibson continued.
“We are very focused on making sure we are doing the right thing.”
The review was commissioned by Auckland Council following the death of Pala'amo Kalati, who was crushed by a container on an overnight shift last August.
Kalati‘s death came less than two weeks after the company admitted a health and safety charge at the Auckland District Court, following the death of 23-year-old straddle crane driver, Laboom Dyer, in 2018.
Under continued questions from media today, Gibson backtracked and admitted he accepted “100 per cent” of the review’s findings.
“I take a heavy responsibility for that and have to take leadership in this space.”
“That we have the proper systems and standard operating procedures in place to make sure people go home safe.
Gibson, who did not consider resigning, said he had an obligation to do everything he could to prevent further deaths on the port.
“I thought I had set a tone [of safety] but obviously the report said something different, so I have to remedy that and I feel a moral obligation to do so,” Gibson said.
“It made me feel sick [when I read it], again I felt a moral obligation to find out why this is happening and make sure that I can lead a programme of work that can deliver on the recommendations.”
Osborne said you could never guarantee that there would be no further lives lost on the port.
“Our obligation is to take all possible actions to prevent these sorts of things happening, if something else happened like that [a death], I don’t know that I would stay here either, it’s a serious issue that we have to live with if we haven’t done something that could prevent a mishap of that consequence on the port, I would feel personally responsible as well.”
Gibson said he would take the lead for repairing the relationship with the Maritime Union of NZ after the review found “the legacy of labour relations dissent is hampering the underlying organisational culture”.
He also said he was not aware that workers were scared to raise health and safety concerns or near misses after those who did were viewed as troublemakers.
The review found that workers had the “perception that line management do not follow up on health and safety issues and see those raising them as troublemakers”.