Port Co fined $75,000 for workplace hazard prosecution

Court House from Victoria Sq-101The Lyttelton Port Co has been fined $75,000 for a health and safety breach that occurred only weeks after the death of employee Bradley Fletcher when machinery toppled at the port.

The fine was imposed by Judge Tony Couch in the Christchurch District Court today at the end of a WorkSafe New Zealand prosecution that has gone on for 16 months.

Judge Couch increased the fine because of the earlier fatal accident but reduced it for the measures the port company has since taken to minimise harm to employees, and for its guilty plea.

Defence counsel for the port company, Garth Gallaway, told the court of the steps taken by the company at the time of the accident and since as he discussed the level of fine WorkSafe was asking for.

“Hundreds of thousands and possible up to a million dollars have been spent on health and safety since Mr Fletcher’s accident,” he said. “This is not a case where an organisation should be hammered with a high starting point and an uplift again.”

In August 2015, the port company was ordered to pay $138,000 in fines and reparations over Mr Fletcher’s death when a scissor crane toppled at work at the port on August 28, 2014. He was not trained to operate the scissor lift. Mr Fletcher was a father of three.

The latest prosecution arose about two weeks later, on September 11, 2014. The company pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to take all practicable steps as an employer to ensure the safety of its employees at work.

The charges says that the firm failed to take all practicable steps to ensure that staff were not exposed to hazards relating to a Snorkel Boom, also known as a cherry picker.

WorkSafe prosecutor DeAnne Brabant said the offending had the potential for serious harm, and the charge had been laid about the same time as the charge over the workplace death.

“It is substantially the same nature of offending, though luckily no death or injury occurred here,” she said.

She said it was a case where the port should have been “highly vigilant”, but there had been a failure to maintain and ensure the machinery was fit for purpose, to ensure it was inspected and operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, and to deal with maintenance issues.

When problems arose, the most appropriate step would have been to take the Snorkel Boom out of commission.

Mr Gallaway said it had been complex accident investigation which took a long time to assess the technical issues. Training had been undertaken for people working on elevated work platforms.

Judge Couch said WorkSafe was saying that the company “was not thorough enough in minimising harm”.

He said that in 2014, the company was advised by a consultant that its health and safety systems were not up to standard and the company subsequently began a review and overhaul of those systems. There was then the fatal accident involving a scissor lift machine.

This led to a widespread investigation into the safety of the scissor lift and cherry picker machinery, and the company became aware that the cherry picker was faulty. Other issues arose relating to training, maintenance, and operation of the machinery.

WorkSafe’s investigation revealed that the company had failed to take all practicable steps in relation to employees’ safety with the cherry pickers.

Had the steps been taken, the hazards would have been “effectively minimised”, he said. He reduced the fine because the company had been fully co-operative with the WorkSafe investigation and had since taken practicable steps to minimise harm to employees using the cherry picker and other equipment.

WorkSafe’s Chief Inspector Keith Stewart said after the sentencing that companies using any machinery in their work must ensure the machinery was maintained according to manufacturers’ instructions and must have an effective system in place to identify faults.

“If faults are found, they must be documented, the machine taken out of service for assessment and workers advised of the faults and whether or not the machinery can be used,” he said.

Issues about the use of the cherry picker were raised with the company the day after the fatal accident. Two weeks later, a mechanical fault with the cherry picker was discovered and it was not removed from service.

“While there had been no injury to workers, there were multiple failings in the company’s management of the cherry picker that could easily have led to a worker being injured,” Mr Stewart said.

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