Automation and Safety in Container Terminals



Mark Sisson, PE, Senior Port Planner, AECOM, Oakland, CA, USA


Fewer injuries to one and all

“An Injury to One Is an Injury to All” is the famous slogan of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)– a powerful union that works the ports on the West Coast of the United States. And until cargo containerization became a widespread practice, working the docks was a remarkably dangerous profession. According to Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) statistics, the injury rate prior to 1960 was between three and four injuries per full-time worker every year.

This appalling rate of on-the-job injury dropped dramaticallyas breakbulk operations were phased out in favor of containerization. By the late 1970s, the annual rate of injury was approximately 15 per 100 full-time workers, some 95 percent lower than the rate prevailing prior to containerization. Whether the ILWU advocated containerization with sufficient gusto – in keeping with their anti-injury slogan – is a topic for another paper. This paper focuses on post-containerization safety trends, and explores the possibility of generating further safety benefits by increasing automation at West Coast ports…

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