Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Dangers of Freight and Container Handling Illustrated by Port Prosecution

The Nature of Box Shipping Means Extreme Care is Needed at All Times to Avoid Injuries and Even Death
Shipping News Feature

UK – A stern warning to anyone involved in the container shipping industry this week to ensure bad practice, only too common when working on freight vessels around the world, as Essex based port operator, Harwich Dock Company are been fined almost £30,000 for safety failings after a dock worker suffered severe leg injuries when an operation to unload a cargo container went wrong. Andrew Gotts of Felixstowe, Suffolk, suffered multiple fractures and destruction of soft tissue on his lower right leg when it was trapped and crushed as a jammed container suddenly freed itself. The agency dock worker has since needed extensive reconstruction surgery and it is not yet known when or if he will be fit for work.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard that Gotts was helping to unload containers from a ship using the ship’s crane and chains on one of the dock company’s two berths within the Port of Harwich. He had been standing on an access platform on the deck of the ship while colleagues tried to free a jammed container during a crane manoeuvre. The container moved suddenly towards him, trapping him against the handrail of the platform and crushing his leg.

The incident, on 4 October 2012, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Harwich Dock Company for serious safety breaches. HSE found that the company did not have a safe procedure in place for freeing jammed containers and that there was no clear instruction as to who should be in charge of the operation, ensuring the area was kept clear and controlling the crane movement. As a result, nobody asked Gotts to leave the danger zone as the container was freed.

HSE staff also found workers were being exposed to the risk of falls during the off-loading operations as dock workers would walk across the top of containers to attach chains, with nothing to prevent falls. Although Harwich Dock Company had a policy that harnesses should be worn, this was not enforced by supervisors present. HSE Inspector Toni Drury said:

“This incident was entirely preventable. Mr Gotts was injured by a jammed container when it suddenly freed and he sustained horrific and life-changing injuries. The risk of containers jamming is well-known in the port industry. There should have been a clear procedure known to the workers, including keeping people clear of the jammed container and having one individual designated to manage operations.

“If Harwich Dock company had properly assessed and managed the risks to all dock workers during the unloading of containers, and particularly to agency workers who are less familiar with tasks and settings, an alternative method of working would have been used and risks reduced. As it was, they were exposed to significant dangers exacerbated by failings in the company’s supervision.”

Harwich Dock Company Ltd, of Kings Quay Street, Harwich, pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £14,761 in costs. During sentencing, HHJ Goldstaub QC said:

“It is essential in any lifting operation that there is a clear chain of command and it is normal to have a designated banksman, slingers and crane driver. Provided all know their function, lifts can be managed safely. If not, dangers arise as demonstrated here.”