Stevedore death uncovers danger

CRUSHED: Waterfront worker Greg Fitzgibbon died when crushed by aluminium ingots.Full report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau

A LOADING accident that killed waterfront worker Greg Fitzgibbon on a Newcastle wharf was the sixth of its type in 27 months, a report into his death has found.

Mr Fitzgibbon, 56, was killed on September 23 last year while working for his employer, Newcastle Stevedores, on a cargo ship, Weaver Arrow, at the Eastern Basin wharf at Carrington.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau report issued on Tuesdaysaid Mr Fitzgibbon was climbing down aluminium ingot packs to work on a lower tier of the cargo when the packs toppled over.

His workmates raised the alarm but he was crushed under the ingots and died at the scene.

The bureau said the company had never had a stevedore fatality but there had been five instances of ingot cargoes toppling or falling in the 27 months before Mr Fitzgibbon was killed.

‘‘No one was injured as a result of those incidents, however, each of the incidents could have resulted in serious injury,’’ the report said.

The accident happened about 9.10pm on a Sunday, and the report found that fatigue was a factor, and that Mr Fitzgibbon was working his ‘‘fourth 15-hour ‘double-header’ in a seven-day period’’ when he died.

The Maritime Union of Australia’s assistant national secretary, Warren Smith, said the union was ‘‘quite shocked at the extent of the criticisms’’ in the report and was determined to ensure that Newcastle Stevedores improved its safety standards.

The bureau said the company’s loading procedures ‘‘did not adequately address the risk of the cargo toppling over and the implementation of basic precautions, such as using ladders to climb between cargo tiers, was not effectively monitored or enforced’’.

‘‘It was usual for some stevedores to climb up or down ingot packs to work on different cargo tiers instead of using the ladders provided,’’ the bureau said.

‘‘The investigation identified that the ingot cargo units or lifts [multiple packs of ingots strapped together] were inherently unstable and prone to toppling over.’’

Mr Smith rejected any criticism of the workers involved, saying it was up to management to enforce safety standards.

The bureau was an investigatory and advisory body only but the union expected that other bodies, such as WorkCover, would investigate the potential for prosecutions.

Mr Smith said a coronial inquiry was also expected.

Newcastle Stevedores managing director Geoff Beesley declined to comment on the report.

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