Fatal crushing of Tauranga worker: Inquest spotlight on faulty sensors

A representative of an auto electrical company that worked on a truck and trailer later involved in the fatal crushing of a worker has hit back at inferences of poor work.

A coronial inquest into the death of a worker, who has name suppression, yesterday heard Mount Auto Electrical Ltd (MAEL) – under pressure to get the truck back on the road – released it having identified its safety sensors were not working but understanding the client’s workshop would fix them.

It was the sixth day of an inquest in the Tauranga District Court into the March 14, 2016, incident where the worker was crushed between a container and the side-loader vehicle, also known as a swing-loader.

The incident happened at a Totara St yard owned by the Port of Tauranga and leased to the worker’s employer, Coda Operations Limited Partnership (Coda) from which Priority Logistics (PLL) operates.

At times, repair work on Priority Logistics’ fleet vehicles was outsourced to companies including Mount Auto Electrical and supplier and manufacturer Hammar.

Mount Auto Electrical managing director Richard Farminer said the vehicle in question was brought in five times between 2011 and 2016 for electrical faults.

However, Farminer shut down inferences his company was responsible for “wrong wiring” as previously suggested during the inquest. He labelled the testimony of Coda health and safety general manager Louis Buckingham as “mistaken”.

Farminer said Mount Auto Electrical was not the only company to carry out electrical work on the side loader as Buckingham had earlier stated.

The court has previously heard of the “poor” condition of the truck’s electrical system including its control box and wiring, and issues with some safety sensors.

“MAEL is not responsible for wiring shortcuts. We would never carry out repair work in this way. No work was done to any existing wiring and never were any wiring shortcuts required,” Farminer said.

He said Hammar did “major work” on the vehicle in 2011 and 2014.

He listed several invoices for jobs in which his company supplied parts to Priority Logistics’ in-house workshop, usually because the part arrived after the vehicle had already been released.

Between 2013 and around the time of the incident in March 2016, Mount Auto Electrical supplied Priority Logisitics’ workshop with 450 parts, Farminer said.

Someone would have had to have fitted the parts, and it was not Mount Auto Electrical, he said.

During the inquest the court has heard the workshop typically carried out rudimentary repairs and maintenance to its fleet, such as changing light bulbs.

“I believe the PLL workshop do a lot more work than just replacing light bulbs and LED lights,” Farminer said.

Priority Logistics jobs typically involved the driver coming to his company halfway through a job for a fault to be identified and addressed while the driver waited, Farminer said.

Most jobs took one to two hours.

Mount Auto Electrical was only engaged for specific jobs with a “narrow” scope to allow for the truck to get back out on the road “as priority”, he said.

“We identified safety systems were not operational. We alerted PLL but they told us it would be dealt with at a later time.”

He said he assumed Priority Logistics’ own workshop would take care of the issue.

Priority Logistics did not want Mount Auto Electrics to inspect the electrical system or to carry out general repair or maintenance work, Farminer said.

“There was a lot of urgency with that swing-loader to get that back. Obviously, these machines are under pressure – so the job is under pressure to get it back. That’s why we only focused on the specific job it came in for.”

“Moving forward, if there was an issue with safety sensors or something, we wouldn’t let it go.”

Counsel Greg Stringer, representing Hammar, said the modification work his client did on the truck was mostly mechanical with very little electrical work affecting any safety sensors.

However, Farminer was reluctant to agree, saying: “I can’t see how you can remove cranes without disconnecting wiring. If you remove a crane arm or leg, and there’s a sensor in there, how do you not disconnect it?”

Under questioning from David Fraundorfer, representing Coda, Farminer said the company had made changes to improve its invoicing and communications with clients.

“It’s not something we took lightly. We were all affected by what happened, to be honest.”

Mount Auto Electrical still does work for Coda.

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