A three-day safety stoppage at DP World, Port Botany has brought to light severe problems with wire hoisting ropes that may have ramifications for similar terminals in Australia, New Zealand and around the world. The Sydney Branch of the MUA has issued the following Safety Alert.
At the recent Sydney Branch Safety Conference, on 8-9 November, members from DPW Port Botany reported on the wire ropes crisis in their terminal. They have experienced no less than 11 wire rope breakages in 18 months. It is only good luck that has prevented multiple injuries or fatalities.
HSR investigation exposes serious problems
After the conference, HSRs and the Safety Committee obtained an expert report showing serious damage to the inner core of the wire ropes. The culprit is out of gauge sheaves, which are crushing and destroying the inner core of the ropes – a problem that may affect all similar ZPMC cranes currently in operation.
Members take action to prevent deaths
With this information, the workforce realised they were exposed to an immediate risk of serious injury or death every time they worked in the vicinity of these cranes. On Thursday 15 November 2018, work ceased on all affected cranes for a total of seven shifts. Since that time, members have taken action to deal with unsafe ropes in other Australian terminals including Fremantle and Port Adelaide.
Despite the obvious safety issue, the company took action against the workers. Workers were subjected to legal threats and were all stood down without pay. The company sought s418 orders in the Fair Work Commission, suggesting this was unlawful industrial action instead of a genuine safety issue.
Despite this, members were resolute. They did not bend to management threats, intimidation or misinformation. After three days of action, with the support of the Branch, members achieved a successful outcome which will bring about a lasting improvement to safety in Port Botany.
What you need to know
- A number of wire ropes snapped at DP World, PBT, over a short period of time without adequate explanation.
- An initial investigation by the Safety Committee and HSRs noted a lack of maintenance, inspection, and inadequate replacement of wire ropes.
- A wire ropes subcommittee was formed to further investigate the causes of these catastrophic failures.
- It was discovered that DPW is operating sheaves with a profile diameter (size) of just 30-31mm,
which is unacceptable for a 30mm wire rope and well out of safety standards. Some sheaves were even as low as 29mm.
- DPW’s own policies state that for optimal rope life, sheaves should be maintained at 7-10% above the nominal rope diameter to prevent premature damage.
- Essentially, the wire ropes are being choked and crushed, shortening the safe operating life of the ropes, and endangering the lives of the workforce and other workers in the vicinity of the crane.
- The HSRs and the Safety Committee at DPW Port Botany insisted on destructive tests (physical unwinding of a rope sample to physically inspect the core of the rope) as well as pull tests.
- Destructive tests showed significant internal damage to the core and multiple breaks in the working area of the rope, which was not evident on X-ray testing (magnetic coil test).
- It is believed that all ZPMC quay cranes with wire hoist ropes of 30mm diameter may be affected.
Thanks to the resolve of members, the following was achieved:
- all sheaves will be changed out over a three month period, in the meantime, all wire hoist ropes will be changed out at 1400 hours (previous operating life of ropes was as high as 4000 hours or more),
- destructive and pull tests will be conducted on all ropes when they are changed out, which may alter the 1400 changeout, depending on the condition of the ropes,
- it was agreed that quay crane 5 hoist rope, which has approx 800 hours of operation on it, will be changed out within a fortnight and destructive tests performed to get a clearer indication of rope life,
- the company withdrew their s418 legal action against workers, and
- all workers will be paid for the time they were unable to work due to an unsafe work environment.