Landmark study reviews health and safety in the global container port industry

Landmark study reviews health and safety in the global container port industry Photo: Huskyherz, Pixabay

A new study conducted by researchers from Cardiff University in the U.K. has the potential to pave the way for significant improvements in the health and safety of workers in the global container port industry.

The landmark study, Experiences of arrangements for health, safety and welfare in the global container terminal industry has been conducted by Professor David Walters and Dr Emma Wadsworth of the University’s School of Social Sciences.

The study was commissioned by IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) and the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation).

The report confirms the findings of a previous study on the safety and health of global container terminal workers and identifies dangers and flaws in the behavioural management systems commonly employed by operators.

The researchers highlighted several areas of concern, including inaccurate reporting of health and safety outcomes; lack of provision for gender; limitations of behavioural management systems; focus on immediate safety risks at the expense of longer term effects on health; subcontracting undermining reporting and a safety culture; productivity targets undermining the will to prioritize health, safety and welfare; and the lack of a consistent approach to OHS management, at least in terms of applying the highest standards regardless of country.

“This is the first major study to provide a detailed examination of health and safety arrangements in major container terminals globally,” said Professor Walter. “While its findings indicate a shared commitment among major global terminal operators to address the management of safety in these terminals around the world, they also reveal some significant gaps between the operator’s expectations of the effectiveness of these arrangements and the reported experiences and impression of workers in the study.

“It shows in particular that there remain very different levels of protection of workers in different jobs, under different employment arrangements and in different terminals in different countries. Unsurprisingly, it shows that the national regulatory and labour relations contexts in which the terminals are situated also play a significant role in determining workers’ experiences of occupational safety and health.”

Paddy Crumlin, ITF President said the study offers the most comprehensive evidence on occupational health and safety in container terminals.

“It is the only international study of its kind, and has identified key areas. These include differences between the perception of workers and management over the implementation of OHS polices, as well as the significant value of worker and union participation in the development and implementation of those polices,” said Mr Crumlin.

IOSH Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Richard Jones welcomes the study and said the findings should be carefully considered.

“While there are some examples of good practice, there’s also a worrying mismatch, with workers reporting higher levels of work-related harm than recorded in company data and concern about their health, safety and welfare. So, we’d like to see good practice developed and shared, raising standards and improving supply chain management across logistic companies and container ports worldwide,” said Mr Jones.

“Key messages include the need for operators to regularly review their health and safety systems, particularly how their contractor-workforce is managed, how health and wellbeing are assured and how worker involvement is fostered. As well as helping to prevent injury and illness, effective supply chain management makes really good business sense. We know from other research that positive feelings about work have been linked with higher productivity, profitability and customer and worker loyalty. So, good health and safety not only helps save lives, it also sustains businesses and is an investment, not a cost.”