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Appalachian Regional Port photo courtesy of Georgia Ports Authority

Safety Continues to Be Key Focus At Intermodal Facilities

Throughout the intermodal network, there is an intense focus on safety at intermodal facilities from those who operate them, suppliers who work there and government agencies that monitor freight transportation activities.

Nationwide, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the government agency whose rules apply at intermodal facilities. Larken Atkins, an agency official, spoke at the Operations, Safety & Maintenance Business Meeting in May, highlighting the importance of safety.

She noted that 126 severe transportation injuries occurred in the Midwest in the first quarter of 2019, as a result of being caught in or between vehicles, being struck by one or falling from elevation.

To address these and other workplace conditions, OSHA provides a variety of informational materials to aid both employers and workers, including a "Back to Basics" flyer for truck drivers that highlights specific activities such as safe coupling and uncoupling.

OSHA also offers compliance assistance specialists who are available for seminars, workshops and speaking events. Publications and other useful information can be found at

Gene Coker, manager of safety and Maritime Transport Security Act compliance for the South Carolina Ports Authority, credited OSHA for recently releasing useful recommended practices to improve safety and health.

"When safety is concerned, there are no boundaries between inland and coastal ports," said Coker. "The OSHA requirements are black and white, with little open for interpretation. The employer’s responsibilities have been defined very well by OSHA to protect the safety of their employees with regulations covering all industries."

Remy Diebes, president of Remprex, described how inland ports and rail terminals present a different and more complex safety challenge than ocean terminals, where automation is greater and operations activities typically have fewer participants and are more separated geographically.

Disconnected activities arise in a rail terminal as workers perform a variety of different tasks, often in overlapping areas, such as grounding boxes, maintenance and repair on railcars as well as chassis, hostling and over-the-road drivers.

"Those more disconnected activities cause more risks because those tasks aren’t necessarily coordinated," Diebes told Intermodal Insights.

IANA Activities

The IANA Intermodal Safety Committee has taken the lead, by working on multiple fronts to enhance steps to reduce accidents and injuries, particularly at facilities such as terminals. A task force, led by CSX Transportation’s director of logistics, safety and training, Vernon Prevatt, is creating a vendor safety handbook for intermodal terminals.

They have done a deep dive and identified 56 OSHA elements that are part of their work plan.

The 14 task force members, representing every sector of the intermodal industry, are pivoting off these 56 elements to develop recommended practices that identify potential vulnerabilities and minimize risk.

Those and other activities are designed to support the committee’s broad goals of fostering a safety culture by steps such as compiling information that can be used effectively by members.

To particularly address safety activities at intermodal facilities, Coker and three other experts shared their perspectives with Intermodal Insights.

Communications and Engagement is Key

Coker said he is constantly searching for ways to improve SCPA’s safety program at all facilities, with particular attention to opportunities created by the internet of things, with a focus on advancements that personalize safety and enhance communication.

"By meeting with our employees and stakeholders, we help to identify safety hazards/concerns and work collectively in finding workable solutions. When people are vested in something, it becomes part of them," Coker said. "Safety has to become the first thing in mind when they start their day."

While federal safety rules and SCPA practices are specific and consistent across the types of facilities, there are differences.

Coker said coastal facilities have more traffic volume, with several thousand vehicles such as commercial trucks, yard hostlers and container handling equipment in work areas that can be confined. Inland terminals are less congested.

Another difference is the absence of maritime workers at the inland facility, and the presence of rail at every inland location.

Inland ports also must focus more on interacting with the local community, Coker said, in particular the increased traffic.

"Proper planning and open communication with the communities involved can greatly lessen the perceived impacts most have regarding traffic," he stated.

Diebes said leveraging data and information to identify where the risks are, is critical to making appropriate safety enhancements. For example, a heat map may identify an intersection where braking often is harsh. The solution in one such case was recommended by an employee, and was accomplished by creating a crosswalk so that mechanics could more safely walk between parking spaces and a garage.

Greer Inland Port photo courtesy of South Carolina Ports Authority


"Employees have to be part of the solution," Diebes said. "Some of the best recommendations we have ever gotten come from employees when we can give them better information."

Core Values

Coker also said that safety is a core value for the SCPA.

Ron Joseph, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Direct ChassisLink, Inc., agreed.

"At DCLI, we take safety very seriously. In fact, "Safety First" is always one of our core values," Joseph said. "Our top priority is to ensure that our equipment is well-maintained so that DCLI chassis, on and off the ramp, are safe for everyone who interacts with them."

"In terms of safety, we don’t see much difference between inland and coastal port locations," said Joseph. "Regardless of location, we require all of our employees to use personal protective equipment to prevent injuries whenever they are on ramps or marine terminals."

He also offered specific guidance.

"Motor carriers [picking up a box at a facility] should do a complete pre-trip inspection and make sure there are no defects, specifically focusing on the tires, lights and twist locks."

Mike Hart, vice president of risk management for 3PL Verst Logistics, also cited safety as a core value as he illustrated steps the warehousing and distribution company takes to support that commitment, with particular attention on one-to-one communications he described as "interactions."

"Verst dedicates all resources we need to make safety a success," Hart said. "We do thousands of interactions a month. Our IT department created an automated interaction to make it easier to track and use them for trend analysis. These can be completed/inputted into our system with a smartphone or iPad. We listen to our people. We get a lot of ideas from them."


Verst relies on that one-on-one, face-to-face contact, using open-ended questions from management and supervisors to make certain workers understand what’s expected of them. "That gets them thinking, and that makes them more successful" Hart said.

There is also an emphasis on sharing of safety experiences in multiple contexts. That is done at pre-shift meetings, one-on-one contact or reviewing past activities, with an emphasis on getting others’ experiences relating to compliance with rules and regulations. Sharing is emphasized in other ways.

"We work together in the safety context," Hart said, referring to other businesses in warehousing and logistics. "There is no competition. We share secrets with other companies. We all want the same thing — safety improvements."

That also is accomplished through industry webinars, safety conferences with the International Logistics and Warehouse Association and monthly meetings with local safety councils.

For truckers, there is an emphasis on driver engagement and the use of forward and rear-facing in-cab cameras in company trucks to coach behaviors, and to provide useful information if there is an incident.

Diebes also said "there is no simple solution" to terminal safety. A balance is needed that is best suited to each individual facility, such as identifying methods to get drivers in and out of terminals quickly, while also being cost effective for the rest of the operation.

Technology advancements have helped enhance safety, such as in-cab cameras, but more needs to be done, he added, offering the example of how a hostler driver’s task could be simplified if all their attention was focused on driving instead of the concurrent tasks they have to do today to find a unit number or crane while at the wheel.

Equipment Owner’s Perspective

From the equipment operator’s perspective, Thomas Graef, manager, ports and intermodal products, at Kalmar, emphasized the value of technology in promoting safety.

"The greater level of automation systems and equipment reduces the number of humans working in close proximity to equipment or operations," Graef said. "In an automated inland intermodal operation, the crane operator is in a remote-control room on the terminal away from the crane. Truckers that are receiving or dropping a container back into truck transfer lanes and have to exit their truck while the automated crane completes the move, putting the trucker in a safe controlled environment."

Automated cranes provide a wide variety of safety advantages compared with horizontal equipment that also is used in terminals, Graef believes.

They include fewer on-terminal collisions involving trucks, trains, cranes and terminal tractors. Other benefits are reduced exposure for terminal personnel walking in container stacks or working near operating cranes. Another advantage is more accurate container weights as boxes are loaded onto trains or chassis, Graef added.

That emphasis on enhancing safety through technology will continue as future terminals are developed, Graef emphasized.

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