Both safe and efficient

21 Mar 2013
The industry needs to ensure that personnel are 'fully aware' of new automation and IT technologies

The industry needs to ensure that personnel are 'fully aware' of new automation and IT technologies

Ottonel Popesco, chief executive of the Cavotec engineering group, outlines his vision for ports, where automation and electrification ensure that safety and efficiency are not mutually exclusive

Naturally, safety is the top priority in all ports, be it a bulk handling port, a container port or a ferry terminal. Creating a working environment that reduces the risk of serious injury is a matter of basic human dignity. By making a workplace safer – in any sector – we are in effect saying that we value human life. Efficiency should always take into consideration the value of human life.

Of course we are under pressure to deliver efficiency gains – and this is quite right – but we must include safety in this equation. We need to strike the right balance between efficiency and safety. Indeed, I see the industry’s current trend towards automation as a step forward not only for efficiency, but also for safety. I see automation as a step forward not only for efficiency, but also for safety.

When we talk about safety, we generally refer to two areas of concern: fatalities and serious injuries; and accidents. So how do we ensure that the risk of both types of incident is kept to a minimum? In ports, we tend to look at three main areas to maintaining safety standards:

  1. Engineering quality: design, parts, safety features;
  2. Operations: personnel training; and
  3. Port layout: sharing best practice on port design

As an industry, we need to design equipment to sufficiently high standards to minimise the risk of injury and worse. So we need machinery and systems that use quality parts that are assembled well. It's no good having the best-designed crane in the world, if it's not engineered properly.

The use of preventitative mechanisms, such as sensors and alarms that help alert equipment operators and others to dangers, is an important element to engineering quality. So we need to look at how we design and engineer port equipment, and the use of safety features. Another aspect to engineering that is occasionally overlooked is the capacity limits of equipment: are we using equipment in the right way, and for the right amount of time? We should respect the recommended operational lives of our equipment.

People power

Another key element to improving safety at ports is on the personnel side: people need to be trained in the new technologies that are emerging onto the market. The best designed crane, with the best parts and best construction can still pose a hazard if the people operating it have poorly instructed on how to do so.

We need to ensure that personnel are fully aware of new automation and IT technologies and know how to use them to make sure we are getting the best, safest performance. This is true not just in the ports sector, but in industries everywhere.

We are increasingly seeing the introduction of automation technologies at ports around the world, where personnel operate equipment remotely: we have been able to get people away from machinery, off the quayside and into control rooms. The possibilities that technological development offers us will most likely enable this trend to continue in the years ahead.

Also, the layout of a port can be critical in determining accident risk. If the layout of a port is not optimised with safety in mind, you are not minimising risk. If you have a state-of-the-art reach stacker, engineered and built to the highest standards, fitted with the latest sensors and alarms, and operated by highly-trained personnel, it still needs a well-designed port in which to operate safely.  

One of the ways the industry is optimising port design is by sharing best practice and extensive in-house knowledge. Other ports appoint consultants to advise on layouts. While this can represent a considerable investment, it is something that needs to be seriously considered.

Beyond engineering, training and layout, we should also remember that there is very much a ship-side focus to safety issues as well. Shipping lines need to look at how safety can be improved with port authorities as a collaborative effort for the good of the industry as a whole.

Ottonel Popesco is a member of the Cavotec Board and the company’s chief executive. Before joining Cavotec in 1988, he spent five years as sales and marketing manager at ABB France. Cavotec is a global engineering group that manufactures power transmission, distribution and control technologies that form the link between fixed and mobile equipment. Cavotec’s product range for the ports sector includes its automated mooring technology, MoorMaster, shore-to-ship Alternative Maritime Power systems, Panzerbelt cable protection, crane controllers, marine propulsion slip rings, power chains and connectors, radio remote controls and motorised and spring driven cable reels.


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