By Daniel Canty
Portside operations involve heavy machinery, towering cranes and require exceptional management to avoid serious injuries or fatalities. DP World's new global strategy is tackling the safety issue head-on.
With a background stretching to 20 years as a dockworker, incorporating many major operator skills including gantry crane operation, Martin Anderson, now DP World head of global safety and environment, has all the hands-on experience necessary to steer the port management firm's safety strategy. The company has grown rapidly into one of the leading players in the international field, and as the corporate bar has been raised, with it has the demand for an impeccable safety record across its global operations.
"I've developed my career through the ranks, and that's what's responsible for my absolute passion for safety," says Anderson. Certainly working with extremely heavy containers in a restricted environment poses one of the biggest safety challenges to the sea freight industry. Being based at one of the world's largest container terminals inevitably magnifies risk to an extent but, DP World have developed, and are vigorously implementing a corporate culture designed around raising awareness and minimising risk before the accidents occur.
"With a lot of companies the safety aspect falls within the safety department - fortunately we're not one of them," explains Anderson. "The senior management absolutely recognise that the process owners are the drivers of safety, we advise and train them, providing the tools for that, but the responsibility sits with everyone. It's no use a safety group sitting in isolation of the day to day business - it's got to filter through every level."
The assessment program is a critical part of the DP World strategy, and is carried out at three corporate levels. The global assessment sets the scene for the business as a group. This includes a review of the most serious incidents and fatalities occurring across the ports industry as a whole in recent years, and implementing a strategy to reduce such events in DP World managed terminals. In 2007 the big push across the group has been highlighting these recurring fatality-potential risks referred to across the company's safety literature as the ‘Fatal 5'.
The next level of auditing incorporates best practice peer reviews, carried out by regional safety operators across each port in a given business region. "At this level engineering specialists are despatched to the individual business units to formulate best practice guidelines, taking into account feedback and research from across the rest of similar heavy industry sectors."
Individual business units or sites are also held responsible for carrying out their own individual assessments. "The thing is, you can have the best, most comprehensive assessment program in the world - but the real progress is made in the follow-up stage, and that's what we'd attribute our success so far to," explains Anderson. The head-office staff take a personal interest in following-up accidents and in the event of a serious incident, anywhere across the group, will endeavour to be on a plane and at the scene within 24 hours.
To ensure that each incident receives the right follow-up treatment, the safety operations team have created a structured reporting system that focuses on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). "We incorporate leading indicators - that is ones that suggest the potential for future events, and lagging indicators, which are a compilation of reports that confirm that a pattern is occurring, or will occur."
The rapid expansion of the DP World family of terminals has provided its own challenges to the health and safety team. The ports that fall under DP World management now total 51 terminals and nine port developments, across 24 countries in all five continents. Within this vast network there are 34,000 staff sourced from 40 countries, with the obvious language barriers to overcome. In spite of the myriad of challenges such a diverse network poses, Anderson is confident the structure he's helped develop means the safety directives issued at boardroom level are implemented across the business.
"We've got the systems ready and up and running now. Because we've grown so quickly and the business units vary so much in size and type, sometimes the systems are rolled out gradually and in other cases they can be implemented wholesale very quickly."
One of the most striking developments being implemented by the DP World safety team involves interaction with port workers and their families to hammer home the importance of safety. "We wanted to get away from the culture that safety precautions are something that you do because you're told to," explains Anderson. "A whole variety of family days and activities for port worker's children has helped make the safety issue something staff really engage in - and this has done particularly well in the developing countries too."
An example of the family interaction scheme has been a poster campaign using the children of employees as the subjects. The posters include the group's global health and safety slogan "Go home today, work smart - work safe" with the children acting as reminders that the safety protocols are there for a very good reason. The campaign subconsciously emphasises the point that a cut corner may save minutes, but may endanger the chances of an incident free day at work.
The port management firm has engaged family members in countless other ways to boost safety awareness, one of the most popular of which has been a kids calendar competition, where employee's children design health, safety and environmental posters, the winning entries of which are made into the corporate calendar. "The calendars have been really successful too - the idea behind them was that staff go home and are made conscious of the safety aspect by doing activities with their children," says Anderson.
One of the principal drivers of safety errors in heavy industry has been identified as worker fatigue. To combat this all workers at the DP World facility in Jebel Ali have access to air conditioned canteens and rest areas where breaks can be taken away from the industrial areas. In the unforgiving heat of the Middle East it is also necessary that rehydration takes place throughout the day, so chilled water is delivered to the workers around the port area at regular intervals. "Of course, the safety element is paramount with regard to fatigue, but it's important to consider that a tired worker is also not a very productive worker."
The team are looking to the future with an open mind and are engaging research projects into various systems and solutions that will help them achieve the goal of reducing lost time through injury rates by 80% in five years. "Automation is something we've been investigating - we don't think is right for Jebel Ali just yet, but of course, by eliminating people from the interface there will be obvious safety benefits derived from that - but realistically there are some tasks where you simply can't eliminate the man on the ground."
In spreading the safety ethic throughout the sea freight industry the employee's are being trained and encouraged to look beyond the port and incorporate the ships calling into their remit. "We're in a draft form now for a new safety initiative which is more focussed at the vessel, in essence it's about engaging the shipping lines and highlighting the issues which our staff, as stevedores, are facing." The hope is that if port workers notice anything on the vessel that poses a safety concern they will be able to report that in a fashion that will alert the owner.
The environmental impact of the port operation is also something being addressed by DP World in a typically proactive manner. The company is striving to limit the ecological impact of the business, particularly by employing techniques to reduce the consumption of electricity and diesel oil, and reusing and recycling wherever possible. "We're investigating solar power and harnessing wind technology. It's very important for the company that when we move into a new area that we engage the community, and that won't happen if you don't take the environmental impact seriously."
The ISO 14000 environmental management standards exist to help organisations minimise how their operations negatively affect the environment, comply with applicable laws, regulations, and other environmentally oriented requirements, and continually improve on the above.
"Our current goal is to have every single business unit ISO accreditation ready by 2009. It's not necessarily that we want to get each terminal certified as soon as possible, more that by complying with the DP World safety and environmental management system each business unit would automatically surpass the
The target DP World has set itself on the safety front is indeed high, and the rapid transition from regional operator to truly global organisation has raised the bar even further. That said, the enthusiasm and commitment to issues such as worker welfare, safety and the environment, displayed by the staff are up there with the most progressive of operators on the international scene.
With a frank and honest approach to the safety question it cannot be disputed that DP World have joined ranks with the elite in the sea freight business. Through innovative schemes and a determination to be the best in every field, the company have risen to the challenges and are now raising industry standards for the rest of the pack.
"As we've become global people expect certain high standards, and we've met those wherever we've extended our footprint to," enthuses Anderson. I think what we've accomplished in the last four years is nothing short of a massive achievement," he concludes.