Avoiding a Dust-up

Cargo dust: a nuisance and potential hazard Cargo dust: a nuisance and potential hazard
Industry Database

Insurer TT Club shares a case history from its files and concludes that community care should now be an essential element in any risk assessment and management strategy.

It would be fair to say that ports and cargo handling facilities are not most people's top choice of favourite neighbours.

Notwithstanding the lure of the sea and the romantic nostalgia of the British coaster "butting down the Channel", most citizens, especially in the developed, post-industrial world, prefer their cargoes out of sight and out of mind, emerging only as a tastefullypackaged, must-have display on some retailer's shelf.

Unfortunately for those with such sensibilities, 'life's not like that', as anyone engaged in the transport and supply chain would confirm.

From time to time the cargoes of coal, road-rails and pig-lead, not to mention crude oil and Chinese-made garments, electronics or furniture, poke into the public consciousness and disturb neighbourly tranquillity.

One common location where one can hear the grinding of the tectonic plates of harmonious co-existence is the port interface.

Here cargoes leave the (relatively) empty anonymity of the oceans and barge ashore bringing with them, in the eyes of their detractors, unwanted noise and traffic congestion.

The communities that gather around ports and cargo handling facilities often take a more pragmatic view of their activities than those further distant. After all, in many cases such communities are, to a greater or lesser degree, dependent on these facilities for their economic wellbeing.

In addition, to those directly employed at the port or facility, the economic multiplier effect means that literally thousands also benefit indirectly. For example, the state of Georgia in the US calculates that its ports and terminals around Savannah support more than 276,000 jobs throughout the state and contribute an income of $10.8bn each year to its economy.

Even such strong links occasionally become strained and the experience of one TT Club member shows why an economic interdependence should never be taken for granted and why a constant monitoring of the state of community relations is vital.

TT Club's Colin Fordham explains: "A small river facility had been making a sound, if unspectacular, living for a number of years, providing stevedoring and warehousing services for the discharge of nonhazardous bulk powder from ships using a combination of ships' gear and landside handling equipment. A neighbouring housing estate had grown up to accommodate the dockworkers and for years community relations were not an issue that troubled inhabitants or management.

"Demographic change though, has a habit of creeping up unannounced and, over time, advances in cargo handling machinery and the toll of human ageing conspired to ensure that the inhabitants of the estate no longer consisted of happily employed stevedores and warehousemen."

Worse, some had had to be 'let go' and were far from inclined to be tolerant any longer of the fine, particulate powder that, in the course of discharge, could be carried on the wind and deposited on the nearby houses and cars, curtains, carpets and washing - causing a nuisance and potential damage to property.

Vociferous complaints were allowed to escalate and bad feeling welled up on both sides. In time, funded by the local parish council, which shared some membership in common with the complainants, the complaints turned into a claim for compensation and a call on the local environmental and health and safety agencies for prosecution.

Fortunately for the facility it enjoyed very comprehensive cover for third-party liabilities, fines and legal defence. The cover also paid to get expert advice on loss prevention and remedial action, assisting the facility to review procedures and processes for discharge with a view to reducing the nuisance.

The steps taken include delaying discharge during high winds, erecting screens to prevent windborne dust distribution, installing wind measuring equipment and replacing grabs used for discharge.

However the problem has not been eliminated and it may never be possible to do so completely.

The most immediate risk was that the health and safety and environmental agencies could actually suspend work at the facility, even though operations have continued normally without problems for many years. The insurers therefore focused on preserving business continuity, providing scientists to analyse the discharge for health risks and lawyers to work with the environmental agency.

Actions taken have been successful with the authorities agreeing that no hazard was posed and therefore none of the terminal's activities fell within their remit. But the claim for compensation remains unresolved, and Fordham is clear on the lesson that needs to be taken on board by all cargo handling facilities.

"It's vital not to let local communities become alienated, " he says.

"Those ports and terminals that enjoy good community relations are the ones who initiate and work hard on them, recognising that local residents need to feel that any issues are being respected and addressed, not allowing them to become aggrieved."

Communication is the watchword!


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