How Port Logistics Affect the Safety of a Vessel's Crew

Every vessel must make port. "Making port" isn't just one task, however. It includes a wide range of activities, depending on the nature and size of the ship. The use of heavy machinery, the transfer of hazardous materials, and several crews all acting simultaneously combine to create a high-risk environment for dock workers. Due to this high level of danger, the way that a port operates can greatly affect the safety of those who visit it or work there regularly.

Activities performed at port can include:

  • Ballast water management
  • Bilge waste management
  • Boiler maintenance
  • Dredging
  • Loading and off-loading cargo
  • Passengers embark or disembark
  • Ship repair and maintenance

Typically, a port operator has contracted with the port authority to manage the flow of cargo at a port. They coordinate between ships, trucks, trains, and other transportation to keep traffic flowing smoothly. Port management is responsible for coordinating various moving parts, including tugboats, warehouses, anchorage, cargo transfer, and other processes.

From 1984 to 2011, researchers in port management noted that an increase in fatalities matched an increase in the size of the vessels coming into port. Researchers assume that ship collisions are not the result of each vessel's quality, but the quality of the port's traffic system. As ships get bigger, operators need to increase their capacity to direct traffic safely.

Safety Over Efficiency

The safety of everyone at the port must take priority over the speed of operations. All personnel, from dockworkers to crane operators, truck drivers to helicopter pilots, must be careful to avoid any accidents while conducting business at port. If management fails to diligently direct any of these activities, crew members could suffer serious accidents (or worse) when their vessels arrive in port. Vessels collide, cargo gets dropped, and machinery breaks down without proper care.

Steps to increase port safety include:

  • Don't underestimate heavy rains and winds.
  • Encourage personnel to report unsafe practices.
  • Ensure emergency items are easily accessible and stocked, including first aid supplies, lifejackets, and fire extinguishers.
  • Maintain realistic goals for completion and the amount of cargo that can be handled.
  • Perform routine maintenance on all cranes, vessels, safety gear, and other equipment.
  • Provide adequate lighting for all operations.
  • Train all staff on any relevant processes.

Diligent management of a port's operation can greatly decrease the risk to workers both off and on ships that are docked there. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) offers information on marine terminal industries, including many cargo processes at port, with information on hazard, gear regulations, and other safety topics. Read it here!

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