Seaports and docks are challenging and hazardous places to work. As such, the docking industry is considered to be a high-risk industry. Port and dock workers are required to work throughout the day and night in extreme weather conditions, as well as with heavy equipment and machinery. To add to this, port and dock workers work alongside a wide variety of people, some of whom do not speak English as a first language. International statistics show that the main causes of accidents and injuries on ports are slips and trips, being hit by moving or falling objects, falls, and manual handling. Additionally, threats to the health and well-being of individuals working in seaports and docks include musculoskeletal injuries and noise. While these hazards are common in many workplaces, some can be considered unique to seaports and docks due to the fact that these hazards manifest themselves in different ways within this work environment.

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
  • The movement of 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 during hours of darkness or when there is reduced visibility
  • Training all vehicle drivers and equipment operators so that they are fit and competent to carry out their respective job tasks

2. Lifting Operations

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 Heights

Routine operations or maintenance activities increases workers risk of falling from heights. To add to this, because seaports and docks are located near water, this adds the risk of drowning if an individual were to fall from a height. Hazards associated with falls from heights include:

  • Working around unfenced dock edges and wharves
  • Inadequate access to and from places of work on board vessels, for instance, 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

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 and/or 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, tug masters, etc.
  • Lifting, carrying and manoeuvring 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
  • Providing workers with information on how to reduce risks to their health

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, that is all parts of the port should be kept clean—providing and using storage bins to properly discard waste
  • 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

Seaports and docks significantly contribute to the economy of a country by creating employment and allowing for the import and export of products and goods. The result yield work environments that place workers at risk for occupational injury and in extreme cases, death. However, while each seaport and dock is unique in terms of its physical layout and work activities, hazards in ports can be mitigated if control measures are implemented and monitored.