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Photo courtesy of Port of Los Angeles

Marine Terminal Safety Is Constant Focus of Attention

Throughout the North American intermodal system, a devotion to safety has been a watchword for decades.

In today’s dynamic market, continued growth of international cargo has directed even greater attention to ensuring ever-safer operations at marine terminals. Bill Carson, general manager of safety, security and environment at Long Beach Container Terminal, summed up the situation.

"As we all know, marine terminals are a complex environment, that doesn’t mean that safety needs to be complex. Emphasizing the basics is the foundation for operational safety," he said, including fundamental steps such as using personal protective equipment, observing speed limits, traffic patterns and defensive driving, as well as regular briefings and periodic facility observation.

Carson was one of five industry experts who shared their views on current safety efforts, as well as additional enhancements.

Robert Wills, PortsAmerica’s health, safety & environment manager in the South Atlantic area, elaborated, offering specific steps that have helped to reduce risk.

"Improvements made in lighting, OCR technology and high-resolution cameras have made it possible for clerks to work remotely in offices protecting them from the weather, slips, trips and falls and man versus machine incidents," he said.

Other hazard reduction actions taken are remote trailer inspections, using specialized trucks with guardrail for rail equipment inspections and traffic management redesign to lower pedestrian exposure, as well as reducing motor carrier drivers’ terminal time.

Jussi Suhonen, Konecranes’ sales director of port solutions in the Americas region, said "everything starts with some defined safety procedures. Once you have defined your gaps, cover them with redundant safety measures."

Among the safety enhancements implemented by Konecranes are anti-collision and steering enhancements for gantry cranes, as well as trailer lift safety systems.

Jeff Davis, chief operations officer at the Port of Houston emphasized basic steps. He said safety starts with the engineering process, followed by design and build activity as well as close attention to day-to-day operations.

Driver Safety Focus

Dan Smith, a principal at Tioga Group, shared that routine measures such as keeping drivers in truck cabs as much as possible and using protective equipment while on foot are important ingredients in maintaining safe operations.

Davis emphasized driver safety, from a different perspective, noting the importance of educating drivers who may be coming to the terminal for the first time, or make infrequent runs there. "It can be difficult to reach those drivers," he said. "They just spend maybe 40 seconds at the gate."

To familiarize drivers with a marine setting, Houston port officials provide training, audit driver experiences and do followup whenever near misses occur. Another emphasis is industry outreach, including monthly meetings with truckers and fleets, that are facilitated through the Texas Trucking Association, Davis said.

Driver behavior in terminals can be a significant concern, Suhonen said, in situations where loads are not dropped in the proper areas, or established traffic patterns aren’t followed.

"We don’t want them going around wildly inside the terminal," Suhonen said, citing the importance of systems to maintain orderly and safe traffic flows.

Notable Progress Achieved

The intense attention to safety is paying off.

"We have seen dramatic improvements on the West Coast," Carson said. "Lost time injuries on the West Coast and Southern California for the last six years have been trending downward. Updating terminal infrastructure and equipment, labor and management collaborating to improve the safety environment and infusing safety into all applications of the operational process are all big contributors to the improvements that we have seen."

Statistics compiled by the United States Maritime Alliance, negotiator of East and Gulf Coast contracts with the International Longshoremen’s Association, have shown a 5% decline in lost time injuries to 809 from 856 for the most recent four-year period available.

On the West Coast, statistics reported by the Pacific Maritime Association show a drop of approximately 14% in injuries, measured by frequency of hours worked, suffered by members of the International Longshore Workers Union.

Though much progress has been made, experts insist on the need to do more.

"We are all familiar with the traditional hazards that a marine terminal may present," Carson added. "As we work to reduce that risk, we are continuing to seek out what the next higher risk is that may rise up."

An important step he cited was effective communication between labor and terminal officials to share information about injuries and incidents. That is done regularly on the job and through local joint and area accident prevention committees.

"The more we expand technology and retrain labor for job responsibilities that can be done remotely, the safer the workplace will become," Wills said.

The Ports America official praised the implementation of appointment systems, which smooth out peak volume and reduce congestion.

Risky Situations

Improvements can be made on the rail operations side, where workers riding on rail cars face serious fall risk and risk increases when trains enter or leave the terminal.

Safety around chassis, and in maintenance shops also are a concern, Wills added, particularly during tire changing operations.

One step to evaluate how safety can be improved for workers on double-stack equipment is being taken by IANA’s Automated Container Securement Working Group.

Smith also emphasized chassis-related activity.

"Reducing the need for drayage drivers to get out and inspect or manipulate chassis or containers should be a goal," he said. "Ideally, a driver should be able to pull up to the first chassis, make a quick connection, and move on. But if the driver has to get out to inspect a chassis or move around on foot to find one, that is an increased risk."

"In a marine terminal, the longshoremen are the professionals and the drivers are the temporary visitors," the Tioga expert said. "Safety will be improved whenever we can keep their activity separate with a clean, controlled interface between them."

Smith also cited another important development — terminal configurations that eliminate the need for drivers to be in the container stacks. If drivers are served at the end of the row, it reduces the frequency of people being near or under moving containers and moving equipment.

Davis focused on enhancing efforts to improve safety when boxes are being transferred by cranes, whether they are loaded or empty because serious incidents can occur when a chassis is still attached during the lifting process.


Safety also is a key consideration in a controversial subject — automation at marine terminals.

Most recently, the spotlight on automation has been concentrated in Southern California, where APM Terminals earlier this year announced plans to automate some services at its Port of Los Angeles terminal. The announcement sparked opposition from the ILWU, and action by the Los Angeles City Council to reject a needed permit to support automation plans. Subsequently, the Los Angeles Harbor Commission, with direct jurisdiction over port activities, approved Maersk’s permit request, allowing the project to move forward.

Several U.S. port terminals already have substantial automation levels, including the Maersk facility in Portsmouth, Virginia.

In general, advancements in automation can enhance safety, Wills said.

"For most marine terminals, automation has made it easier for labor to do their jobs, because there are many things they can do now remotely, away from hazards and the effects of bad weather," Wills said. "Automation is very helpful as long as we can maintain the level of service our customers have come to expect as well as productivity."

Carson also cited several automation-related benefits, particularly when labor and management team up with a common goal to move containers safely and efficiently with the goal of separating man and machine to enhance safety.

Smith also focused on the interaction of people and machines, urging a "carefully managed transition to additional automation."

"Automation can contribute to safety, but for the foreseeable future we need to keep automated equipment away from people," he said. "The risks of accident in an automated environment are different, and people should not be exposed to those risks."

Suhonen stressed the importance of education before automation is implemented to underscore the fact that adding technology is introducing new skill sets.

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