Ask more questions about safety choices

Collision prevention technology is not a panacea for safer port operations Collision prevention technology is not a panacea for safer port operations
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Wouter de Gier explains why collision-prevention technology will not save lives.

The last decade has seen an unprecedented growth in collision-prevention technologies. Companies that are active in the port sector today can choose from smart sensors, lasers, video analytics enabled cameras, active RFID tags, scanners and more to prevent contact between people and heavy equipment. Manufacturers and resellers often promise that their product will create a safer working environment and reduce injuries. I want to challenge this thinking.

On the face of it, it may sound like an attractive proposition and easy fix; install some new devices on your machines and get on top of safety. While collision-prevention technology can indirectly contribute to a safer operation, it is not the silver bullet to prevent people getting injured. Before you invest, consider the problem that you are trying to solve.

Do you want to safeguard people and prevent injuries? If so, ask yourself why these people are present in your operation. Have a conversation with them first to understand their perspective, take another good look at your processes and your facility lay out. You can eliminate the need for people in the operation by making some deliberate and often simple changes and achieve a 100% pedestrian free yard at zero or minimal cost.

Do you want to keep people away from the machines? In the rare case that people cannot be taken out of the operation, you will have to create a safe place for them to work. Create sufficient distance between the employee and the machines, demarcated by hard physical barricades (concrete blocks, fencing, etc.). This will enable them to carry out their tasks from a fixed location and will prevent them from wandering about between the operating machines.

Using collision prevention technology for safety reasons may look attractive but is not a good idea. It will lead to a false sense of security as machines and people will continue to share the same work space. It will therefore not eliminate the risk of contact between people and equipment until the underlying reasons have been addressed.

With a 100% pedestrian-free operation, you will be in a much better position to consider investing in collision prevention technologies. The rationale should be about increasing operational efficiency and reducing operating cost by minimising equipment damage and cargo claims. Sounds like loss prevention to me, not safety.

Wouter de Gier is director for Global Safety and Environment at APM Terminals and chairman of ICHCA’s Technical Panel.

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