Out of control
Shore-based stevedores risk life and limb when lashing boxes on poorly designed containerships. Felicity Landon investigates
Balancing precariously on hand rails, squeezing into tiny spaces between stacks, working at heights with no fall protection - no wonder stevedores have been classed by ergonomic experts as "industrial athletes".
A terminal or port can have all the safety systems in the world in place, but it can't control conditions on board the ships that call, which are essentially an extension of the stevedores' working environment.
Stevedoring and lashing operations are dangerous; stevedores are losing their lives every month and there are an unacceptably high number of injuries, according to Lloyd's Register's recently produced Container Safe Access Project report.
LR highlights ship design issues such as working platforms that are frequently inadequate or absent, inadequate fall protection and poor access, leading to hazards for workers such as falls from height; and inadequate work space, work space at the wrong height and lack of space for securing gear, leading to slip, trip and fall hazards on the surface and musculoskeletal disorders caused by excessive stretching.
At present there are no overall requirements for an adequate and safe working environment in lashing operations, and there are plenty of horror stories to be told.
Now classification society Lloyd's Register is moving ahead of an ongoing International Maritime Organization initiative by introducing its own set of provisional rules on ergonomic container lashing (ECL), aimed at protecting stevedores - as well as ships' crews - from the hazards of securing containers on deck. "This is about saving lives," says David Tozer, LR's global business manager - containerships.
The rules cover access arrangements, minimum/maximum dimensions for working spaces, container securing arrangements, maximum reach, slip/trip/fall protection, fencing, ladders and harness attachments, and issues such as surfaces, signs, labels and lighting.
"When a ship arrives in port, the stevedores board the ship and are responsible for lashing the containers, but they have no control over the condition or design of the ship," points out Mr Tozer. "As a result, people are being injured and even losing their lives.
"These hazards have become unacceptable to many container terminal operators, who may refuse to work hazardous vessels."
In parallel, LR has also been involved in the IMO initiative to tackle the problem of stevedore safety, which will lead to amendments to the Code of Safe Practice for Cargo Stowage and Securing (CSS Code). The International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA) is playing a major role in the IMO project and says the new Annex 14 to the CSS Code should be published and adopted by mid 2010.
Some members of the UK's Port Skills and Safety (PSS) are also involved in the IMO/ICHCA work.
Nigel Parfitt, head of PSS, says: "The key area is the design of ships. When building a ship, the designer wants maximum space for containers. As a result, some have very small access gantries of 600 mm or less, where the stevedores have to go up and lash containers; the recommended width should be 750 mm as per the International Labour Organization (ILO).
"Some older ships are really just not safe - worn and rusty, with bits of string where there should be safety rails to prevent falls. On other vessels there are no safety rails on the outboard side of the containers, and this is an unsafe practice when lashing or unlashing takes place."
Mr Parfitt highlights another safety issue - there have been instances where the lashing bars, which can range from 2.4 metres to 5 metres in length and are quite weighty, can get caught the wrong way by windy conditions. If there are no safety rails, this can lead to falls.
"There are instances where a port refuses to unload a vessel due to the unsafe conditions, but by developing a good working relationship with the shipping agents and the shipowner to rectify the faults, they have seen improvements to the vessel on its return to the port," he says. "However, if a port does turn a ship away, that ship will find another port ready to take it - because it is business."
One major container port confirmed that it had indeed refused to work ships due to their general condition or refused to lash or unlash specific areas on vessels due to the lack of fall protection or access problems in certain lashing areas.
"Unfortunately, the knock-on effect is that the crew may then be put in the situation of carrying out the task, which just transfers the risk, so we will do everything with container top safety frames and extension tools to try to do the job."
Some terminal operators operate a ship vetting procedure, with vessel safety inspection checklists, says Lloyd's Register; if the result is unsatisfactory, they may indeed refuse to work the ship or some bays, leaving the ship's crew to carry out the lashing/unlashing work.
At least one container terminal has already confirmed that any ship with LR's ECL notation would be exempt from its blanket safety vetting procedures.
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