Tauranga, New Zealand-based stevedoring company C3 Ltd has been fined NZ$240,000 (US$157,000) by the Auckland District Court after a 15-tonne excavator was dropped from a crane of log carrier Aster K on July 16th 2017, at Northport in Whangerai. The excavator narrowly missed five workers on the wharf below.
C3 pleaded guilty to exposing people to the risk of death or serious injury under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Excavators are loaded onto log carriers to help move and stack logs in the holds. In this case the loading had been completed. One of the ship’s cranes was being used to unload the excavator onto the wharf.
Maritime New Zealand said that the excavator’s boom was not positioned correctly, meaning that the load was unbalanced when the excavator was lifted.
It was also determined during the investigation that the C3 employee supervising the lift felt he was not qualified or trained for the work he was doing. Another C3 employee was on the wharf where the excavator would be unloaded. He was a trainee who had taken off his radio, meaning that the two men could not communicate with each other.
Four workers from a company providing biosecurity treatment for the logs, plus a welder doing repairs on the side of the ship, were in the drop zone where the excavator would fall if the lift failed.
None of the five had been told that the excavator was about to be lifted; neither were there any controls to ensure that they, or anyone else, were clear of the drop zone.
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 on where the five workers had been. Maritime NZ Northern Regional Compliance Manager, Neil Rowarth, said that “this was seconds away from five workers almost certainly being killed”. He added that “the incident happened because C3 did not adequately 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. It was sheer good luck that no one was seriously injured or killed.”