TT Talk - Lashing and Unlashing Containers - managing the human risk

Now in the sixth decade of modern container handling, there has been a tremendous amount of innovation. Ever larger ships, triple lift container spreaders, moves towards full automation on container terminals and 10 high stacks on deck to name some! However, throughout all of this impressive innovation, the human interface for handling twistlocks and lashing rods has remained stubbornly present. This needs to be addressed.

While ship and shore-side operations have marched steadily forward, the unlocking of twistlocks on board the ship and subsequent removal from the bottom of the container before landing has remained the domain of so called 'pin men'. In addition, someone has to remove the lashing rods and re-affix them on completion of loading.

'This is still a dangerous and risk-laden occupation'

SATLs & FATLs: delivering safety?

The development of semi-automatic twistlocks (SATLs) largely obviated the need for personnel to walk across container stows inserting manual twistlocks. However, SATLs still require unlocking and this necessitates activation of the pull cord with a long pole from above or below. Further, since the cords are designed to be activated in a horizontal direction, a degree of extra force if activating from above or below the twistlock is required.

As a result, there have been several designs of fully automatic twistlocks (FATLs) and one company has recently developed a lightweight version that can be lifted in one hand. These remove people from the ship stacks with a bit of clever work by the crane driver (if the crane is not fully automated) to unlock the twistlocks and lift the container(s) ashore. However, someone still needs to stand in proximity to the suspended container to remove each twistlock and place it in a bin ready for fitting to another container being loaded back to the ship.

Therein lies a problem. Personnel have now safely been removed from the top of the container stack, but remain on foot in the terminal itself. These 'pin- men' are at risk from internal movement vehicles (automatic or manually driven) or straddle carriers that take the containers to and from the land-side stacks. There is always a danger from the proximity of personnel on foot and ever-present heavy vehicles, not to mention the danger from the suspended containers themselves. Mitigating such risks, some terminals have adopted portable barriers to act as 'pinning stations', while others have moved the operation to the cross beam of the quay crane to keep personnel off the terminal paving and away from vehicles.

Workplace safety

Such developments are a step in the right direction but still do not obviate the need for the fitting and removal of the lashing rods and turnbuckles on board the ship. If it were not bad enough to handle a very long lashing rod, insert it into the appropriate corner fitting way above your head, whilst trying to balance on a small metal projection on the edge of the deck stow with nothing but the quayside or dock water below you, you are sometimes having to do this while gingerly picking your way through a mass of discarded rods and turnbuckles, adjacent to an open hatch with no fencing, perhaps one bay away from actual loading and discharging activity - possibly with wind, rain or ice thrown in for good measure.

Consequently, ICHCA, among others, have been pushing IMO for a while to improve safety in the working area for lashers on board ships. This includes measures such as minimum walkway clearances, improved lashing bridge dimensions, better fencing, securing on opening hatches, proper platforms to work from, bins for lashing rods and safe access plans for the ship. These have been encapsulated in Annex IV of the Code of Safe Practice for Cargo Stowage and Securing (CSS Code) and an IMO Circular (MSC.1/Circ.1352 Rev.1) brings all this into force with effect from 1 January 2015.

'Annex IV of the CSS Code in force with effect from 1 January 2015'

This will certainly improve things for all ships with the keel laid after this date, but it is thought likely that it will be almost impossible for some older ships to comply fully with the revised Annex. At least for new ships, naval architects will have to give serious thought to safety of lashing gangs. Equipment manufacturers are thinking similarly, one such admitting recently that shipyards generally order a ship's lashing outfit to suit what the ship needs according to its class rules, with no thought for the handlers.

ICHCA recently brought together delegates from nine countries representing a broad spectrum of the container industry for a seminar on this important subject. Speakers focused, amongst a range of topics, on ways of making lashing and unlashing containers safer. The seminar also homed in on losses of containers overboard as a result of lashing failures, which a World Shipping Council survey indicated as an increasing problem. TT Club, ICHCA and other partners in the industry are keen to ensure that the remaining recommendations coming out of the MARIN 'lashing@sea' report are considered and enacted as appropriate, following adoption by IMO of the verification of container gross mass.

Delegates were introduced to a number of innovations, including an automatic twistlock platform designed to remove twistlocks from container bottoms and re-attach them from revolving magazines, without the need for human intervention. The unit needs no power supply and is actuated by the weight of the container and spreader using hydraulic principles. It is clear that no single solution will improve the situation across the whole operation; industry collaboration for innovation and/or regulation is required.

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance in the preparation of this article of Capt. Richard Brough OBE, Technical Director of ICHCA International.

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

Staff Author

TT Club