Accident prompted refresher course

Port Otago machine operators were schooled in safe driving well before an investigation revealed operator error was partly to blame for a serious accident at the site last year, its chief executive, Geoff Plunket, says.

A 26-year-old man was seriously injured when the straddle carrier he was operating toppled on to its side on July 1.

Worksafe NZ said in its recently completed investigation report speed was a factor in the incident, and it made recommendations to Port Otago for safer use of the heavy machines.

Mr Plunket said many of the recommendations had already been put in place by the end of last year.

‘‘This was a very distressing accident for us and was of great concern,'' he said.

‘‘We carried out our own investigation [into the incident] and took all our drivers through a refresher programme.

‘‘We had a very close look at how we went about training to make sure we had good processes around that and driver behaviour.''

The refresher course included safe speeds to travel at, reducing speed when turning and understanding the stability warning system installed as a safeguard in straddle carriers.

Some factors, such as the design of the machines and the positioning of the speedometer and display screen, were out of the company's control, Mr Plunket said.

The worker had made a faster recovery than expected and returned to full-time duties before Christmas, he said.

The report said that at the time of the incident, the man had been travelling around a corner at 20kmh, 8kmh above the recommended speed limit.

He had been making a 180-degree turn to back the carrier under a crane.

The recommended speed limit for a straddle carrier was 25kmh when travelling in a straight line, but 12kmh when turning a corner.

The man was loading cargo on to container ship Medinah at the time of the incident, but the carrier was empty when it toppled, the report said.

Port Otago straddles were fitted with seatbelts but not headrests, and this could have been a factor in the injuries the worker suffered, it said.

‘‘There is a possibility that, had [the worker] been strapped into the seat of the straddle, he may have received serious head injuries due to the absence of a head rest and having a cab support post directly behind the seat.''

There were no mechanical faults with the machine, a 16m Kalmar ESC 450W carrier, meaning the warning system would have kicked in, the report said.

‘‘However, any stability control programme is limited in what it can do to prevent tipover or loss of control. Much relies on the driver driving to the conditions and not exceeding the capabilities of the machine.''

The man started work at Port Otago in 2006 and became a full-time cargo handler in 2008 after completing training in forklift and straddle driving, the report said.

Worksafe NZ did not bring a prosecution as a result of the incident.

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