Report: Container Port Health and Safety Evaluated

port workers

Published Sep 9, 2016 7:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

An independent study published on Friday is hoped to pave the way for significant improvements in the health, safety and welfare of workers in the global container port industry. 

Commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the ITF International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and carried out by Cardiff University, the report is claimed to be the only one of its kind ever undertaken to such an exhaustive level.

The study, Experiences of arrangements for health, safety and welfare in the global container terminal industry confirms the findings of what until now was the first ever major international study of health and safety in global network terminals and identifies continuing dangers, causes for concern, and flaws in the behavioral management systems commonly employed by operators, says the ITF. It also offers clear pointers to improvement.

Researchers were granted unique workplace access by six major port/global network terminal operators, which are anonymized in the data.

While recognizing the ongoing health and safety progress made by port operators, the report recommends attention be paid to the following areas of concern:

•    Inaccurate reporting of health and safety outcomes: even within the context of modern health and safety management models, levels of injury and risk are being under-reported.
•    Lack of provision for gender: the study found that there is very little attention to the specific needs of female workers.
•    Limitations of behavioral management systems: the report finds the widely used behavioral occupational health and safety (OHS) model inferior to participative systems, which emphasize worker involvement as partners in health and safety management.
•    A focus on immediate safety risks at the expense of longer term effects on health.           
•    Subcontracting undermining reporting and a safety culture: the report shows that health and safety outcomes are worse for subcontracted workers.
•    Productivity targets undermining the will to prioritize health, safety and welfare.
•    The lack of a consistent approach to OHS management, at least in terms of applying the highest standards regardless of country.

ITF president and chair of its dockers’ section, Paddy Crumlin, explained: “We welcome the support of several companies who cooperated with this independent study with the intention of making ports safer places. We believe the issues identified will be of intense interest to them, and, we hope, to the entire industry. We will actively seek the industry’s cooperation in tackling these problems. 

“The simple fact is that you can’t put a price on dockworkers’ lives. We also strongly recommend that these significant findings are taken into consideration by the ILO International Labour Organization (ILO) Meeting of Technical Experts that will work on the revision of the ILO Code of Practice on Safety and Heath in Ports in Geneva this November.

“This major, collaborative research project points the way to what can be a safer future for container port workers. We invite all companies to walk that route together.”

Richard Jones, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at IOSH, said: “IOSH welcomes these research findings and would encourage all container terminal operators to carefully consider them. While there are some examples of good practice, there’s also a worrying mismatch, with workers reporting higher levels of work-related harm than recorded in company data and concern about their health, safety and welfare. So, we’d like to see good practice developed and shared, raising standards and improving supply chain management across logistic companies and container ports worldwide.

“Key messages include the need for operators to regularly review their health and safety systems, particularly how their contractor-workforce is managed, how health and wellbeing are assured and how worker involvement is fostered. As well as helping to prevent injury and illness, effective supply chain management makes really good business sense. We know from other research that positive feelings about work have been linked with higher productivity, profitability and customer and worker loyalty. So, good health and safety not only helps save lives, it also sustains businesses and is an investment, not a cost.”

The report is available here.