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Stevedoring company fined for 15 tonne excavator drop that was 'seconds away' from killing workers

A Tauranga stevedoring company has been fined over an incident where a group of workers narrowly missed being crushed by a 15 tonne excavator dropped from a ship's crane.

Northport (file picture, not the August 14 accident scene). Source: istock.com

C3 Limited was fined $240,000 by the Auckland District Council yesterday, following the incident from log carrier, Aster K, at Northport in Whangarei in July 2017.

Maritime NZ northern regional compliance manager Neil Rowarth said the company did not properly train some of its stevedores for working around cranes.

"They did not clear the drop zone below the crane and allowed the excavator to be loaded incorrectly onto the crane," he said.

"Cranes can be dangerous and people working with them must be properly trained."

"This was seconds away from five workers almost certainly being killed."

C3 pleaded guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act of exposing people to risk of death or serious injury.

On July 16, 2017, an excavator was being used to load logs. One of the ships cranes was being used to unload the excavator onto the wharf.

A Maritime New Zealand investigation found when the excavator was lifted it was unbalanced and that staff, who felt unqualified for the work, couldn't communicate with each other when operating the machinery.

Meanwhile, four workers from a company providing biosecurity treatment for the logs and a welder doing repairs on the side of the ship were in the drop zone where the excavator was to soon fall.

None of the five were warned that the excavator was about to be lifted and there were no controls to ensure that they, or anyone else, was clear of the drop zone, according to Maritime New Zealand.

The four biosecurity workers were in a fork hoist when one of them saw the excavator being lifted and moved by the crane. He immediately told the driver to reverse.

At the same time, by chance, the welder left the side of the ship to fetch tools from his vehicle. 

Seconds later the excavator fell off the crane and crashed down where the five workers had been.

“It was sheer good luck that no one was seriously injured or killed,” Mr Rowarth said.

“This is a striking example of employers’ responsibilities to provide good workplace training and safe work practices.  

“It should never be just ‘good luck’ that workers come home alive and unhurt.”