'Devastating club': Widow hits out at Auckland Port over damning safety review

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 31 Mar 2021, 9:48AM
Laura McLeod pictured with her late husband Leslie Gelberger. Photo / File
Laura McLeod pictured with her late husband Leslie Gelberger. Photo / File

'Devastating club': Widow hits out at Auckland Port over damning safety review

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 31 Mar 2021, 9:48AM

The wife of a swimmer killed by a Ports of Auckland boat is heartbroken that workers have died at the city's wharves and doesn't want any other families to join such a "devastating club".

Laura McLeod, whose husband Leslie Gelberger died in 2017, says she was pleased that Mayor Phil Goff and Auckland Council were shining a light on the culture at the Ports of Auckland and "holding it to account".

An independent review at the port, released yesterday, found systemic problems with health and safety at the council-owned business.

"The fact that there have been two further deaths since the death of my husband, which itself was a product of a culture that prioritises productivity over welfare, is heartbreaking," McLeod said.

"How many deaths does it take to have them concretely change their ways and, as recommended, prioritise safety over profits?"

In August last year, father-of-seven Palaamo Kalati, 31, a stevedore, was crushed to death by a container on a ship at the Fergusson Container Terminal.

And in 2018, 23-year-old Laboom Midnight Dyer died after a straddle carrier he was driving tipped over.

McLeod said her heart goes out to their families.

"I do not want any more families to join such a devastating club," McLeod said.

In July last year, Ports of Auckland was fined $424,000 for failing to comply with health and safety duties after a pilot boat struck and killed Gelberger as he was swimming.

Goff said the review — by Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ) — found a need for significant improvement at Ports of Auckland to ensure that its approach to health and safety reflects the level of risk inherent in port operations.

"Health and safety rules that keep people safe are not 'a nice to have'. They are a vital component of good management in any workplace.

"When someone goes to work, they should go back home to their families and loved ones," Goff said.

"The reviewers make a number of recommendations to improve health and safety at the ports, including new requirements for the ports chief executive to prioritise safety over productivity and profitability, improve trust and communication between management and staff, and for a new health and safety manager to report directly to the chief executive and the board."

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood told Mike Hosking he wants to see immediate improvements.

"I've gone on record and made the comment yesterday that if we don't see management and board taking on board the recommendations of this report, showing willingness and ability to implement these recommendations, then I don't think they should stay."

He said the port needs to stop putting profit above people.

"Most companies in New Zealand manage to do that without compromising the health and safety, and potentially the lives, of their employees.

"I don't think that is beyond the ability of companies to deal with that."

Board chairman Bill Osborne acknowledged that the culture of health and safety at the ports had been poor and has fully committed the board to implement the recommendations of the review.

"I now expect Ports of Auckland to implement these recommendations without delay and more importantly to hold management to account on monitoring and compliance."

Meanwhile, the Maritime Union has called for Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson to go, after the report.

Union national secretary Craig Harrison said the report confirmed everything the union had said about the failure of port management to keep staff safe over several years.

"There is no confidence in the chief executive and the board has not done its job," said Harrison, who said the first step should be to replace Gibson.

At a press conference yesterday, Gibson said he had no plans to resign, saying his focus is making sure the wrongs that have been done are put right.

Gibson said he would stay in the job as long as the board had faith in him. Osborne said the board had confidence in Gibson and senior management's commitment to drive forward on every recommendation in the report.

with text by Bernard Orsman and Julia Gabel, NZ Herald