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Top 5 Safety Hazards on Seaports and Docks

By Kurina Baksh
Published: August 8, 2019 | Last updated: August 8, 2019 04:26:57
Key Takeaways

Slips, trips, and falls are a major hazard for dock workers.

Caption: Shipyard Source: thitivong / iStock

Seaports and docks are challenging places to work, and docking is considered a high-risk industry. Port and dock workers must work throughout the day and night and under extreme weather conditions. All the while, they do their jobs with and around heavy equipment and machinery, amidst lots of traffic, and alongside international workers which creates a language barrier.

(Find out How to Overcome Language Barriers in Safety Training.)

The main causes of accidents on seaports and docks are:


Additionally, dock workers can succumb to musculoskeletal injuries and are exposed to hazardous noise levels.

(Learn How to Reduce Noise Levels in Your Workplace.)

In this article, we'll go over the top five hazards on these worksites and what employers and supervisors can do to protect the workers on them.

Top 5 Hazards in Seaport and Docks

1. Moving Vehicles and Equipment

Every year, accidents involving transport result in workers being killed or seriously injured on seaports and dock. There is an increased risk of being run over, crushed, or falling from a moving vehicle, as well as property damage.

Hazards associated with moving vehicles and equipment include:

  • The loading and unloading of vehicles
  • Moving vehicles on docksides and in container storage areas
  • Reversing vehicles on decks

The risk of hazards associated with moving vehicles and equipment can be reduced by:

  • Segregating vehicles and pedestrians, as far as reasonably practicable
  • Providing appropriate road signs and markings
  • Restricting access to operational areas for members of the public, private vehicles, and delivery vehicles
  • Ensuring that all operational areas and access routes are sufficiently lit, especially at night or in reduced visibility conditions
  • Training all vehicle drivers and equipment operators so that they are fit and competent to carry out their respective job tasks

(Find out How to Create a Safe Work Zone Using Maintenance of Traffic.)

2. Lifting and Unloading

Loading and unloading at ports involves the use of a wide range of lifting equipment, such as cranes and forklift trucks. Poorly planned lifting operations can lead to significant risks to workers, including serious fatal injuries or being hit by falling or moving objects.

Hazards from lifting operations on seaports and docks include:

  • Unstable or poorly loaded cargo; falling loads
  • Lifting equipment failure
  • Loose, incorrectly, or poorly slung fittings and fixtures

The risk of hazards associated with lifting operation can be reduced by:

  • Avoiding lifts over areas where people are likely to be working or passing
  • Ensuring that workers are trained, competent and experienced in safe lifting procedures
  • Regularly inspecting and examining all lifting equipment and accessories
  • Assigning a competent person to plan the lift (the order of work, route, weight, as well as what to do in the event of a shifted load or bad weather)

3. Falls from Height

Routine operations or maintenance activities increases workers risk of falling from heights. Because seaports and docks are located near water, a fall carries the added risk of drowning.

Hazards associated with falls from heights include:

  • Working around unfenced dock edges and wharves
  • Inadequate access to and from places of work onboard vessels (e.g. holds, hatches, and decks via ladders)
  • Falls from vehicles during loading and unloading

The risk of hazards associated with falls from height can be reduced by:

  • Conducting risk assessments for any work carried out at height
  • Properly planning and organizing all work at heights
  • Selecting and using suitable work equipment, such as guardrails and mobile elevating working platforms
  • Properly inspecting and maintaining equipment on a regular basis
  • Ensuring that edge protection is in place on all open edges where there is a risk of falling from height

(Learn How to Prevent Fall Protection Equipment Malfunction.)

4. Manual Handling Activities

Seaport and dock workers are required to perform a variety of job tasks, which if not properly managed, may lead to the development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs are caused mainly by manual handling activities that involve frequent bending and twisting, repetitive movements, excessive force, whole-body vibration, as well as strenuous physical work. The majority of seaport and dock workers are reported to suffer from MSDs, such as back pain, strains, sprains and muscle injuries.

Hazards associated with manual handling activities include:

  • Operating container cranes, straddle carriers, and tug masters
  • Lifting, carrying, and maneuvering loads, lifting gear, and attachments
  • Storage and warehousing activities
  • Hauling mooring ropes off large ships

The risk of hazards associated with manual handling activities can be reduced by:

  • Using mechanical handling equipment, such as vehicle-mounted hydraulic hoists, portable roller conveyors, and pallet trucks
  • Encouraging workers to adopt safe lifting techniques
  • Avoiding the manual handling of loads, where possible
  • Encouraging workers to take short, frequent breaks where monotonous, repetitive tasks occur

(Learn more about the Top Ergonomic Issues in the Workplace.)

5. Slips and Trips

Over a quarter of all reportable accidents on seaports and docks are attributed to slips or trips. These can result in minor injury and concussion to broken or dislocated bones.

Hazards associated with slips and trips include:

  • Wet, icy, or uneven surfaces
  • Poor housekeeping
  • Badly stowed ropes, cables, lashing gear, and equipment
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Improperly discarded packaging and pallets

The risk of hazards associated with slips and trips can be reduced by:

  • Ensuring safe access and egress
  • Encouraging proper housekeeping to keep all parts of the port clean
  • Ensuring that all access and emergency routes are kept free of obstructions
  • Providing all operational areas and access routes with sufficient lighting
  • Selecting suitable footwear for the task

Seaport Safety and Workers

By facilitating the import and export of goods, seaports and docks play a significant role in the economies of every seaside nation. However, the nature of the work places employees at risk.

While each dock is unique in terms of its physical layout and specific challenges, control measures can be implemented to deal with the major hazards.


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Written by Kurina Baksh

Kurina Baksh is a Health, Safety and Environment Professional from Trinidad and Tobago. As a recent graduate in the field, she is trained to analyze and advise on a wide range of issues related to her area of expertise. Currently, she is an independent consultant who develops public outreach and education programmes for an international clientele. She strongly believes that increasing public outreach and education can promote hazard awareness and ultimately save lives.

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