Stevedore inspection campaign

Stevedores loading logs were over-represented in ACC claims - especially in relation to musculoskeletal injuries.
a large commercial cargoe ship is berthed at a wharf that has piles of logs stacked in various formations.
Maritime New Zealand 2023
Stevedores loading logs were over-represented in ACC claims.


In the period 28 May 2017 – 17 April 2018, Maritime NZ received 55 incident notifications regarding ship's lifting equipment or the handling of cargo. Of these, 39 were notifiable events. Of these notifiable events, 18 were failures of crane running wires. There were no reported injuries, but had there been people under those loads, or the cranes were used to lift people at the time, they could have been seriously injured or killed.

Moreover it appeared that stevedoring incidents were under reported with less than 10% of incidents being notified. For this reason it was decided that an inspection campaign was necessary to improve Maritime NZ's understanding of stevedores' work.


The approach

Phase 1 of Maritime NZ’s inspection campaign focussed on the loading of logs onto foreign-flagged ships. This specific activity was chosen because it is high-risk and it would provide a window on the wider industry. Ships’ cranes were the primary focus of these inspections.

Phase 2 of the campaign looked at other types of cargo and delved deeper into the effectiveness of the companies’ safety management systems. Not every stevedore company was inspected, because some are only involved with marshalling or other specialist activities. 30 ship-based inspections were undertaken across all 13 commercial seaports. Several meetings were also held with the senior managers of the largest stevedore companies. The Director of Maritime NZ also presented interim findings and safety messages at industry forums, and updates were posted on the Maritime NZ website, or emailed directly to stakeholders.

The stevedore companies know that they work in a high-risk environment and they are all clearly committed and willing to ensure the safety of their workers.



  • Crane-lifted platforms are also used as a “Paint Cage.” This particular arrangement did not comply with the HSNO Act because they had 470 litres of Class 3 flammable liquids in open containers next to an ignition source and there was no hazardous atmosphere zone.
  • Some loads were seen being swung over the top of the excavator. The OPS are not certified to withstand a load of logs being dropped onto it, presenting a significant risk to the excavator operators. This practice should be prohibited and the excavator positioned well.
  • All of the companies have one excavator in each of the holds being loaded. Those excavators are all fitted with an Operator Protective Structure (OPS) which is covered by an ACOP. Seatbelts must be worn at all times.
  • Some companies have one hatchman working two hatches. That person cannot observe both loads at all times. One company had no hatchman at all, relying on the others in the gang to communicate with each other.
  • Some companies have one hatchman for each hatch being loaded. They observe the load at all times from the wharf to the final position, giving directions by radio to everyone else in the gang.
  • Typical crane-lifted work platform used by excavator operators to access their machines on the ships - especially when loading logs on top of the hatch covers. These platforms must have self-closing gates. None of the platforms inspected had this feature.
  • An excavator operator risks falling between the ship and wharf while climbing down a stanchion to where he can access the forklift platform. A crane lifted platform was available and should have been positioned on top of the logs.
  • A ship’s crane running wires make contact with the hatch coaming risking abrasive wear to the wires. This practice is now prohibited.
  • Stevedore owned log wires make contact with the hatch coaming risking damage. Most companies manage this by inspecting them after every heave and discarding wires according to strict rejection criteria.


Notifiable events may be under-reported

When incidents do occur, HSWA requires “notifiable events” to be reported to Maritime NZ as soon as possible and the incident scene must not be disturbed until cleared by an inspector. Some companies are still coming to grips with the definition of notifiable events, which is much wider than the requirements under the old Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.


Crane safety is everyone’s responsibility

During all of the inspections, Kiwi stevedores were operating the cranes on foreign-flagged ships. The foreign crew and several other groups also have an interest in those cranes. Better communication is required between all of these people to ensure the cranes are safe to use.


Methods of rigging and lifting cargo

The closed and controlled nature of the port environment gives stevedore companies the opportunity to adapt and improve their lifting methods. Unlike many land-based crane-related activities, loading and unloading cargo from ships’ holds is relatively repetitive and consistent, with the potential for greater flexibility over the necessary composition of the work gang and the equipment that they use. The stevedore companies should continue to review and adapt their work processes, while remaining aware of relevant improvements outside the port environment.

The ships provide all of the equipment to the crane hook, while the stevedores provide everything below that. While most companies have a “no touch” policy to prevent contact with the hatch coamings by the rigging or ship’s equipment, this wasn’t always enforced. Crane running wires must never make contact with hatch coamings because of the significant risk of damaging them.

Log-wires (wire ropes used to sling each heave of logs) are given a particularly hard life, but they are expendable and subject to regular and on-going inspection and rejection by the stevedores.


Excavator operators are exposed to the greatest risks

Excavators are used extensively to move cargo within vessels’ holds. These are owned (or leased) and operated by workers of the stevedore companies. These are the workers exposed to the most risk and, in addition to other hazards, the inspectors observed loads being lifted over the top of the operators which is prohibited and unnecessary. All of the excavators were fitted with Operator Protective Structures (OPS) and the stevedore companies need to ensure the OPS are recertified before the due date and that the OPS are suitable for the work activity. Seatbelts must be worn at all times.

The excavators are lifted into and out of the holds by a variety of methods. The manufacturer’s instructions should be followed, or engineer-designed and certified lifting points should be used. During the campaign, Maritime NZ inspectors raised concerns about the practice of so-called “4-point lifts,” using log-wires around lifting points on the excavator track frames and, after an excavator fell into the sea, prohibited this lifting method.

Some of the excavator operators also risked falling from heights while accessing the excavators, as did other workers around the ships. On two separate occasions stevedores were observed climbing down the ship’s stanchions without any means to prevent a significant fall and immediate action was taken. A serious accident by another worker shortly afterwards led to Maritime NZ prohibiting this practice.


Crane-lifted platforms were generally unsafe

Crane-lifted work platforms, or “man cages” as they are sometimes called, are used extensively by the stevedores and these were observed lifting log-marking paint and spray units into the holds. The paint was classified as a Class 3 flammable liquid, meaning it must not be stored or used in the presence of an ignition source. The spray units presented a risk of ignition, so action was taken to rectify this unsafe practice. Companies are now substituting the flammable paint for non-flammable water-based product, isolating the ignition source, or painting the logs by hand.

Some companies also used those platforms to lift their workers to and from the ships. However, the ships’ cranes must be certified to lift people, because a much higher safety standard is required than for cranes that only lift cargo. The stevedore companies need to inspect the Class certification for those cranes before work commences to ensure they are safe to use. If the crane is safe to lift people, the platform must also be certified, have a self-closing gate, and an appropriate fall-arrest system must be adopted. Few of the platforms inspected by Maritime NZ complied with all of these requirements.


Forklift platforms could also have been safer

Personnel platforms are also attached to forklifts, then used between the wharf and the ship so that workers can access or egress the vessel without using the accommodation ladder (gangway). Those platforms must also be certified, securely attached to the forklift boom, have self-closing gates and the forklift control levers locked to prevent inadvertent tilting. Some of the forklifts inspected did not comply with all of these safety requirements.


Workers are exposed to dangerous atmospheres

Ships’ holds and other places present the risk of dangerous atmospheres. Oxygen-depleting cargo and heavier-than-air fumigants can harm stevedores who work in the hold. Excavators running in the hold for many hours each day can also contribute harmful CO to the atmosphere. The stevedore companies vent the holds by having the ships’ crew open the hatches, but determining the immediate risk to workers by the use of gas detectors or monitoring their prolonged exposure to the risks during the shift is not common.

Workers must, so far as reasonably practicable, be provided with a work environment that is without risks to their health and safety, so this issue must be addressed by the stevedore companies. Workers can also be kept out of the hold. In 2018 it is no longer impracticable to substitute conventional excavators for models that can be remotely-controlled from a safe location, or some bulk cargos can be moved by other mechanical means such as pneumatic ship unloader systems.


Reducing musculoskeletal injuries should be a priority

Musculoskeletal injuries are the greatest cause of ACC claims by stevedores and reducing these will have significant increases in worker wellbeing and company productivity. The risk of slipping on logs is sometimes managed by the use of “corkers” (spiked crampons), but wearing them is often a worker’s decision, rather than as a result of a PCBU-led risk assessment. Meanwhile, workers are encouraged to keep hydrated and have regular breaks through access to good shore-based facilities. Some tasks for some companies have mandatory pre-start stretching exercises, but this is not widespread across the industry. Other preventative measures should be introduced or improved to reduce these types of injuries.


Drug and alcohol issues are well-managed

Stevedore companies have clear policies regarding drugs and alcohol and these are supported by robust procedures that apply to all workers including the senior managers. Pre-employment, post-incident and random checks are undertaken with support and rehabilitation processes in place if negative results are returned.


Fatigue management is not as formalised

While various shift configurations exist, fatigue is not managed in quite the same way as drugs and alcohol by the stevedore companies. Fatigue is a highly-personal experience for the workers and influenced not only by their work, but also by circumstances at home. Many stevedores are casual workers, sometimes working consecutive shifts for different companies. Few stevedore companies had knowledge of their workers previous work schedules with other PCBUs, relying instead on the stevedores to self-manage this issue. Maritime NZ has identified fatigue as a primary causation factor for incidents in other sectors and many of the recommendations promoted for those industries could be applied to the stevedores.


Hatchmen are not dogmen

The role of hatchmen has evolved and departed from the expectations of land-based dogmen who direct crane operations on building sites and other places. Some stevedore companies require one hatchman for every hold that is being worked, while others have one hatchman supervising multiple hatches at the same time by walking between them. Other companies have dispensed with the role entirely or assigned it to their excavator operators in the hold. Maritime NZ’s inspectors considered whether the lack of hatchmen directly and negatively impacting safety. However, they noted that most, if not all, of the unsafe practices observed during the inspection campaign were under the direct supervision of hatchmen. HSWA is clear that the PCBU (the stevedore companies) own the risks and they own the remedies, so any of those hatchmen options may be safe, depending on the circumstances. A one-size-fits-all approach to this issue would be inconsistent with the HSWA principles. What is also clear is that if a hatchman is used, they must be fully conversant with all of the relevant safety policies and procedures, empowered to take immediate and decisive action, and to report any non-conformities so they can be prevented in the future.


Workers are also responsible for safety

While the PCBUs (the stevedore companies) have the primary duty of care over health and safety, every worker must also take reasonable care of themselves and make sure that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other people. The workers must comply with any reasonable instructions that are given by the stevedore companies and co-operate with their policies and procedures. For example, if the company has a no-touch policy for crane running wires against hatch coamings, HSWA is clear that the crane operator must co-operate with that policy.