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When it comes to the health and safety of your personnel, nothing should fall through the cracks. The port industry is no exception to this: If you are currently running roll-on and roll-off operations—from ports to terminals to vessels—you need to be mindful of the safety best practices round-the-clock.

Workplaces need to be free from accidents, injuries, and fatalities to optimally fulfill their operations. In which case, ro-ro operators are responsible for complying with safety rules that protect crewmembers, stevedores, longshoremen, and office-based employees. 

What Can Contribute to Ro-Ro Accidents?

There are several factors to watch out for when implementing safety hazards in ro-ro. The following are based on the guidelines set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA):

1. Lack of training. The inability of employees to perform their duties due to lack of training can be detrimental to worker safety. Without proper training in the field, serious injuries can occur to the employee and/or those around them.

2. Fatigue. Being overworked is common in the port industry because the operations are non-stop. Being overfatigued makes it difficult for any crew member to stay focused on the job and have the energy to perform at their best.

3. Inadequate traffic controls. Managing automobiles coming in and out of the vessel can be hazardous without a proper traffic control system in place. Arrangements should be made to ensure everyone’s safety, such as creating clearly marked walkways or putting stoplights to manage traffic.

4. Material failures. Worn-out machinery is prone to accidents. Some old systems may malfunction in the middle of high-intensity activities.

5. Unsafe walking surfaces. Tripping hazards are common in cargo holds. Working areas must be free from debris and lashing points, or at the very least, there should be signages that alert workers if they are in unsafe working areas.

6. Inadequate ventilation. Internal combustion engine-driven ships must have proper ventilation around-the-clock. If left unattended, this could exceed the allowable limit of carbon monoxide concentrations.

7. Improper use of—or failure to use—personal protective equipment. Protective equipment exists to keep hazards from inflicting further injuries, especially burns or electrocution. Protective equipment such as chemical hood respiratory masks also keep you from inhaling harmful chemicals.

How Ro-Ro Operators Can Promote Health and Safety

As the port industry continues to advance, changes have introduced new hazards. The occupation taken upon by port workers has very high accident rates, so doing at least the bare minimum health and safety protocols will go a long way in mitigating risks. 

That said, each ro-ro operator should be able to develop, manage and implement working initiatives that promote the safety of its workers no matter what circumstances they are in. Here are a few general principles to follow.

1. Design a protocol that prevents your worker from handling crucial tasks alone. Accidents can happen anytime, especially during critical activities. If you have enough manpower to handle port activities, make sure that everyone has an accountability partner. But in circumstances where only one person can do the job, make sure that there is good communication with a party chief or anyone within the port to check on your worker’s safety.

2. Set a working budget for protective gear and other safety materials. Estimate your budget allocation for protective gear, warning signages, alert systems and other precautionary items to protect your workers during operations. Set aside a budget for testing equipment as well. It’s helpful to use expense report software to help you manage and track costs, ensuring that all crucial gears are purchased first.  In addition, include a budget for repairs and inventory. 

3. Make sure air flows properly. Adequate ventilation ensures that port workers have access to clean and sustainable air while on deck. According to the International Labour Force (ILF) in Geneva: “When internal combustion engines exhaust into a hold, intermediate deck or any other compartment, the employer must ensure that the atmosphere is tested as frequently as needed to provide carbon monoxide concentrations from exceeding allowable limits.”

Tests should be made regularly to ensure that the area is conducive for workers to perform their duties in without worrying about inhaling harmful chemicals. Likewise, the ILF mentioned that managers should ensure that no papers are on the loose and are properly stored in a secure and organized fashion. Papers tend to be sucked into the exhaust ventilation system, which could block airflow.

4. Make safety protocols visible. While most safety protocols are common sense, some people can forget them or not be trained in performing them properly. Make all your safety efforts obvious to port workers so they have reference materials when they need them most. For example, print out catalogs that tell them a step-by-step process on how to put out a fire in case it happens.

All signage should be clearly displayed throughout the site, whether on the ship or at the port. This should include a 24-hour emergency hotline as well as a map to the nearest clinic, hospital, fire station or police department. Entry and exit points, first aid kits and other emergency equipment should also have signage so workers know where to find what they need.

5. Be mindful of vehicle stowage and lashing or unlashing. Make sure that all vehicles, trailers and other automobiles are secured before taking off. The best practice is to secure one vehicle before another is positioned behind it. Also, lashers should have their own lashing points, both on the automobile and the ship.

6. Beware of slips and falls. Onboarding the ship is hazardous due to inadequate lighting, frequent weather changes and fluctuating water conditions that can make the deck very slippery. Make sure to put clear warning signages in areas that are prone to slips and falls, and make sure that these are well-lit. Likewise, prepare an on-site emergency plan that outlines clear instructions on what workers need to do in case of a fall.

7. Double-check machinery before sailing off. For safety purposes, make sure that you have experts inspect the machinery, the schedules of the workers, the first-aid kits, and other equipment. Check if there are possible oil spillages and if so, avoid all contact unless they are deemed safe. Note that chemicals release toxic fumes that may cause injuries or even start a fire.

Prioritize Safety First at All Times

These are some of the most basic health and safety practices you can do in your ro-ro operations, but they are not intended to replace any national regulations. Rather, they should help give you a better idea of where to start improving your organization’s protocols.