Safety improvements after accidents

GROWING concern over the rising number of fatal accidents at ports has today led to calls for increased safety measures and more openness about incidents.

GROWING concern over the rising number of fatal accidents at ports has today led to calls for increased safety measures and more openness about incidents.

MPs' call for more data follows the death of a Felixstowe portworker last month – the eighth person to die at the port in the past 28 years.

HSE officers are investigating the death of trainee portworker Dennis Burman, 51, who plunged 120ft from the top of a crane while on a safety exercise.

Father-of-two Mr Burman, of The Poplars, Brantham, was being shown from the top of the crane the dangers of operating the enormous piece of equipment and the "blind spots" where the driver could not see people on the ground.

Prohibition notices have been placed on five of the highrise gantry cranes to stop more than one person at a time being on them and the port has extended the new rules to all 25 ship-to-shore cranes at the terminal to prevent confusion.

The parliamentary transport committee expressed its concern over port safety after learning that the HSE investigated 649 incidents of death and injury last year at UK ports, compared with 612 in the previous 12 months.

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MPs are also concerned at how long it is taking to update port safety laws, which were last renewed in 1988.

Ron Webb, of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said he was worried about the quality of statistics relating to port accidents.

"We need to know the number of accidents relating to employed workers and casual labour," he said.

He also expressed concern over European Commission plans to increase cargo "self-handling", allowing non-English speaking ships' crews to work alongside portworkers to unload containers and felt this would compromise safety.

While official figures are growing, there are also many more minor workplace accidents the HSE does not investigate.

Sources told the Evening Star that there were more than 830 accidents at Felixstowe last year – a figure port officials would neither confirm or deny, though they said accidents were down 20 per cent last year.

The HSE told the parliamentary committee that 25 of its 214 inspectors worked on port safety inspections though not full-time. Every effort was being made to improve safety and work with port management, which is responsible for safety.

Data was being improved but it was not possible to create a list of good and bad ports because each was different, handling different sorts of cargo and with a variety of hazards.

Felixstowe port is carrying out an urgent internal review of safety procedures to see if any more can be done to minimise risk and avoid accidents following the fatal accident.

The port says safety is a top priority at the terminal and more than £2 million is spent every year on safety and training.


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