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Deaths on docks drive urgent plans to address safety

12 Dec 2018
The ITF Dockers’ Section Occupational Safety and Health Working Group launched its work program last Thursday in Hong Kong, coming together with global terminal operators, regulators, academics, and the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health for a roundtable discussion on the uneven safety performance in global container operations.

The deaths this year of more than 50 dock workers highlights the urgent and important role of the working group. The working group had its inaugural formal meeting on Friday following the roundtable.

The working group will make decisions and recommendations to the ITF Dockers’ Section Committee on a five-year work program which will include introducing occupational health and safety expertise into ports around the globe. The goal is to support ITF affiliates in building a safety culture within their memberships and assisting them in working with terminal operators who continue to press workers into dangerous working conditions.

In addition, the working group will contribute recommendations to the International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, national governments and with industry stakeholders that are committed to a zero-casualty policy.

Working group chair Steve Biggs from Unite the Union, UK, said, "In 2016, Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and ITF published a study on occupational safety and health in global container terminal operations. We were shocked by the findings.

“The study by Cardiff University Professor David Walters showed that the application of safe work practices varied around the world, and even within major terminal operators committed to global standards. It exposed again that for many ports safety is subordinate to productivity.

“Working on docks is extremely dangerous, I know, I am a working docker and I am committed to cleaning up this industry. Global standards must be just that, global," said Biggs.

Michael Cross, vice chair of the Working Group, and Maritime Union of Australia National Safety Officer, added, “Over the past calendar year more than 50 dockers have died in preventable incidents, and those are just the ones we know about through published reports and information from affiliates. We suspect dozens more dockers have needlessly died this year, but it doesn’t make the press. There is no central data point to keep such statistics.

“We must drive, and demand, higher standards. Currently they’re not good enough. Where is the accountability of management? If management are found to be negligent, and in many of these incidents it seems to be the case, there should be very harsh penalties, including jail time. If government and industry will not look out for the safety of our sisters and brothers, we will."

"Over the years the ITF has played a key role in developing the safety and health in Ports ILO Code of Practice. But given the recent appalling record we need to do so much more work to make sure our members go home safely at the end of the shift. We need to work on the job site and we need that experience to guide us in our work with regulatory bodies at a global level and at a national and local level," said Cross.

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