Stevedore badly injured in fall

Lookout! Issue 33, June 2015

A stevedore suffered serious injuries after falling 15 metres from the deck of a ship, hitting a crane and the wharf before landing in the water.

The man was attempting to dislodge a twist-lock of a container, at the top of a two-container stack, so that the wharf crane could lift the containers.

He was using a “three high” unlocking pole approximately 5 metres long and successfully dislodged the twist-lock, but it remained on top of the container.

Twist lock
The stevedore was dislodging a twist-lock when he fell.
Maritime New Zealand ©2020

He then used the unlocking pole to lift the twist-lock, intending to swing the pole inboard and drop it on the ship’s deck, but the weight of the twist-lock began to force the pole down towards the side of the ship. The stevedore tried to stop this, afraid that the lock would hit people on the wharf below.

But the weight was too great and he was thrown from the ship when the pole pivoted on the ship’s side.

The stevedore spent around 15 minutes in the water, because he fell into narrow space and it was difficult to get him out. He was kept afloat by two life-buoys, which had been thrown to him.

He was eventually brought to safety, after a cage carrying several rescuers was lowered into the water until it was partially submerged, and he was floated gently into it.

He remained conscious but was seriously injured, with two broken legs, three fractured vertebrae, 10 fractured ribs, sternum fractures in two places, a lacerated lung, and two fractured tendons in his left hand.

The man remained hospitalised for more than three months after the accident and continues to receive treatment for his injuries. He requires further surgery as a result of his injuries, and is unlikely to be able to return to work as a stevedore.


  • A safety rail should have been in place in the area the man was working.
  • At the time the ship was signed off as safe for work, the safety rail was not up. There was lashing gear and bottle screws on top of the safety rail, which would have needed to be moved before the safety rail could be lifted into position.
  • The ship supervisor could have put the rail up himself, if he was able to, or advised the ship’s crew of the problem and required them take necessary steps before work began, such as erecting a temporary safety rail to address the risk of falls.
  • As part of safe work processes, the company required a ship supervisor to ensure each vessel was safe to work on; but there was no formal process for someone to advance to the role of ship supervisor. Training needs to be put in place for people to be appointed in this role.
    • Maritime NZ charged the company under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of an employee.
    • The company admitted the charge and was fined $55,000 and ordered to pay $25,000 in reparation to the stevedore. This shows failure to take safety precautions can cost a company more in respect to reputation, fines and reparation, than investing in safe outcomes in the first place.

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