With ports and operators around the world recognising the need to reinforce safety measures to prevent worker accidents, how can the Middle East ensure its future operations are accident-free?
For those involved in port operations, the responsibility to ensure effective safety measures to protect workers as they go about their everyday duties always remains high.
The main focus is obviously not to injure people through constant awareness programmes.
With many of the dangers associated with the loading and unloading of tonnes of cargo taking place at port operations, it is imperative that both ports and operators continue to take strong measures to minimise the likelihood of worker accidents.
Recently, many ports and governments across the globe have become involved in a reinvigorated drive to minimise worker accidents - with some regions looking towards enforcement to emphasise the seriousness of the issue.
In the United Kingdom's container ports, for example, agencies such as Ports Safety and Skills Ltd (PSSL) have been working to successfully reduce industry accident rates through programmes such as the Safer Ports Initiative (SPI).
By 2010, PSSL hopes to establish a UK framework to assist the industry to ensure it has a ‘healthy and competent workforce', using tools such as authoritative health and safety guidance and standards, and by promoting the uptake of industry qualifications at all employee levels.
For those committed to driving forward change in worker safety at ports, such as PSSL, the key focus to reducing incidents lies with promoting the business case for a top-down 'integrated approach' to health, safety and skills.
The underlying message to the industry is that accidents cost money - in terms of worker injuries, delays in shipments, and of course, reputation. Evidence shows that port operators in the Middle East region are taking this message very seriously indeed.
For global container terminal operator, APM Terminals (APMT), the safety of its workers at port operations is paramount. "The HSSE culture within APMT is driven from top down and we are continuously developing new tools," emphasises Steen Davidsen, CEO for APM Terminals Bahrain BSC.
"The main focus is obviously not to injure people through constant awareness programmes. These include providing HSSE tools, facilitating training, providing polices, guidelines and education and registering all injuries, accidents and near misses."
Indeed, the health and safety of APMT's workers is a core concern for the company and it takes pride in adopting a proactive approach to instituting terminal working practices that reduce any such risks.
"It is company policy to conduct its activities in a manner that protects the health and safety of its employees, and that the actions of the company and its employees do not harm the health and safety of others," says Davidsen.
The company also operates a 'Safety for Life' programme, to improve safety practices throughout its global terminal network. "We have a global training system in which safety and security plays a big role," Davidsen continues.
"We also give people introductory programmes when they begin working for the terminal and look into how we can involve all users in terminal safety, not just our own employees."
In October last year, APMT further organised a Global Safety Day, aimed at promoting safer working at container terminals. The day involved ceasing all APM terminal operations for 30 minutes to focus its employees on safety issues.
Proud of his company's safety record, Davidsen is confident that, overall, other terminal operators are also taking responsibility for the safety of their workers very seriously.
"Whilst we sincerely believe that APMT is one of the absolute leaders here, other major operators are also working on this. Slowly but surely, awareness is improving and safety boards can now be seen everywhere in all ports," he asserts.
"Improvements are always needed in some areas such as training in new tools, making sure that the awareness sticks and that people accept personal accountability for their safety as well as the employers."
Another trail blazing international port and terminal operator, DP World, views worker safety as primarily a management responsibility. "With a lot of companies the safety aspect falls within the safety department, but our 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," explains Martin Anderson, DP World head of global safety and environment.
Anderson believes that working with heavy containers in the restricted environment of a port is one of the biggest safety challenges operators face. As part of implementing its own safety strategy, DP World undertakes a global assessment which includes a review of the most serious incidents and fatalities occurring across the ports industry as a whole in recent years.
In particular, the group identifies certain recurring fatality-potential risk areas which it refers to as the 'Fatal 5' - namely pedestrian safety, mobile equipment, handling loads, working at heights and managing contractors. By introducing new operational safety standards, DP World aims to minimise the number of injuries across these risk areas.
The port operator also recognises the importance of the workers themselves taking responsibility for their safety at the ports, particularly as worker fatigue or carelessness can be viewed as one of the common reasons behind incidents.
At the DP World facility in Jebel Ali, all workers have access to air conditioned canteens and rest areas where breaks can be taken away from the industrial areas, and chilled water is provided 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. We wanted to get away from the culture that safety precautions are something that you do because you're told to," Anderson says.
"A whole variety of family days and activities for port workers' children has helped make the safety issue something staffs really engage with."
Measures for preventing accidents are largely based on a solid understanding of why such incidents occur in the first place. Using this theory, one of the best ways of developing such an understanding is by conducting an effective follow-up once an incident has occurred.
"You can have the best and most comprehensive assessment programme in the world, but the real progress is made in the follow-up stage and that's what we attribute our success so far to," Anderson concurs.
"We incorporate leading indicators, namely ones that predict future events, and lagging indicators, which are a compilation of reports that confirm when a pattern is occurring or will occur."
A goal has been set to reduce lost time through injury rates by 80% in five years, and Anderson hopes that this safety remit will continue to grow not only at the port but to the ships as well. Port workers are presently quick to alert ship owners of any safety hazards on the vessel.
"We are looking at a new safety initiative which is more focussed on the vessel. In essence it is about engaging the shipping lines and highlighting the issues which our staffs, as stevedores, are facing," he says.
It is not just the international port operators who are leading the way forward in terms of worker safety issues. One of the leading regional terminal operators, Gulftainer Company Ltd (GTL), which manages container terminals in Port Khalid and Khorfakkan on behalf of Sharjah Port Authority, is also ahead of the game when it comes to minimising the risks to its port-based employees.
"Safety measures are important for the welfare of both employer and employee," echoes Keith Nuttall, commercial manager, Gulftainer Company Ltd. "Staff who are properly trained are more aware of the dangers around them and respond accordingly."
In order to ensure the safety of its workers, Gulftainer employees undergo an induction course when joining the company, which highlights all aspects of terminal operations.
"We employ training and safety officers who train employees in their respective disciplines," says Nuttall. "We have classroom facilities in our terminals and regularly hold refresher training courses for our staff. This includes practical demonstrations and IT aids to ensure that the correct methods are followed."
Like other international terminal operators, Gulftainer's safety programme has reaped many benefits for the company. "Although our throughputs are steadily rising, there has been a significant reduction in accidents at our terminals due to the training schedules we have programmed for our staff," says Nuttall.
"There are the additional benefits to the company of keeping insurance premiums at lower levels," he adds.
Indeed, with a strong business case for promoting worker safety issues throughout port operations, it is not surprising that many of the region's ports are taking the issue so seriously.
Not only can measures avoid costly delays caused by worker accidents, but they can also demonstrate the company's commitment to employees overall moral and well-being.
With good practice across a number of port operations already underway, its imperative that the lessons being learnt are shared throughout the region so that others can become more aware of their role in preventing worker accidents.
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