TT Talk - ICHCA Technical Panel – making safety core

The 73rd meeting of the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association's (ICHCA) ISP Technical Panel was held recently, kindly hosted by Puertos de Las Palmas. Whilst a number of key risk areas were considered in detail by the panel, bodily injury and pedestrian safety was confirmed to be a key risk in ports.

Demonstrating the significance of safety in port areas, TT Club reported that nearly 80% of the costs associated with bodily injury claims directly involved mobile equipment and vehicles. Many port users can come to perceive a container terminal as familiar, and therefore a safe working environment. However, TT Club claims data suggests otherwise, with such facilities presenting high consequence risks. As a result, attendees at the Panel meeting agreed there is a material need to alter the users' perceptions of the risks.

Considering safety hand-in-hand with productivity

Increased throughput and potential congestion in port areas mean that it may be time to pause, reflect and implement change management protocols. With up to five quay cranes working a single ship, the modern day apron and container yard may experience high traffic volumes, which require increasing levels of management to ensure safety is not overshadowed by operational demands.

It has been reported that the ECT Delta Terminal, Rotterdam, recently took the record for the greatest number of containers handled from a single ship call in Europe - 11,051 containers (18,500 TEU)! Few container terminals around the globe have been designed to handle such huge throughput in a single call. However, it may be anticipated that this is just the beginning, and there is a real possibility that such number of moves are set to become common place.

Furthermore, it is clear that the size of the largest container ships is only set to increase; it is understood that plans have already been submitted for approval for ships up to 22,000 TEU. The deployment of these huge ships has the consequence that what used to be considered large - 8,000 to 13,000 TEU ships - are being 'cascaded' into 'spoke' or feeder services. This means that container ports in most trades are facing similar demands to upgrade in order to cater for increased ship tonnage.

‘Container ports in most trades are facing demands to upgrade in order to cater for increased ship tonnage’

The risks involved are not simply to do with the high volumes of containers being imported and exported, regardless of any degree of congestion. Such port facilities are complex multi-user environments, with everybody from the ship's crew, stevedores, surveyors, emergency services, and maintenance personnel to customs officials constantly requiring access to the operational terminal area. The varying degree of control over these differing types of personnel having access rights can be most challenging.

Plan for safety

So, armed with the foreknowledge that the demands on such facilities will become more rigorous, what steps should we be taking to mitigate the risks and more importantly protect the safety of people?

The answer is two-fold - a combination, firstly, of robust processes, with consistent enforcement and, secondly, the effective use of the available technology. The greatest challenge lies in implementing the 'perfect' balance for any given individual operation, each having its own intricacies. In some situations it may be physical, such as space constraints, in others the operator may have less direct control, such as successfully bridging a language barrier.

Process driven solutions need not incur significant capex, often starting with a full analysis and risk assessment of the facility. Implementation of one way traffic flows, speed limits, segregation of pedestrians and vehicles or designated areas for personnel to perform tasks such as load securing safely are all theoretically simple solutions. Management and enforcement of such processes once implemented is, however, critical, not simply to achieve the operational benefits but also reduce the liability exposure. These can best be achieved through site inductions, improved signage and an ongoing observation-based review system.

Clearly, technology based solutions may incur material cost to the operation. Decisions will typically be made on a case by case basis and on the merits of extensive risk assessment. The scope of technology available in today's market is substantial. The Port Equipment Manufacturers' Association (PEMA) were again strongly represented at the latest ICHCA Panel meeting. Where it is not possible to eliminate the risk entirely and where the practicalities of process based solutions are only partially effective, technology may bridge the gaps.

‘Where it is not possible to eliminate the risk entirely and where the practicalities of process based solutions are only partially effective, technology may bridge the gaps’

It is considered that, in isolation, reversing vehicles give rise to the greatest risk. Viable solutions exist for most scenarios, including proximity sensors and alarms (which can be retrospectively fitted to mobile equipment), camera equipment, container stack profiling to prevent knock-overs, and proximity sensors for personnel (installed into high visibility vests or hard hats). Indeed, the TT Club's experience of incidents within container terminals suggests that few risks cannot be engineered out completely by the effective deployment of existing technology.

Taking the effective management of a facility a step further, GPS and proximity sensor equipment could be provided to each external vehicle entering a terminal. This provides transparency as to what vehicles are actually doing within the facility and an effective tool to proactive management of the pure human element of people taking short cuts. Indeed, knowledge that they are being closely monitored has been shown to provide the motivation for drivers and other operatives to comply with what are often fully understood but previously ignored instructions.

Container terminals as well as other facilities which accommodate mobile equipment continue to be potentially hazardous workplace environments. Through the completion of extensive risk assessments, a fine balance of adequately managed processes and considered choice and deployment of technology, many of the associated risks can be overcome.

We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director, TT Club

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