Safer stevedoring



Fritz Merk, Sort + Store GmbH, Essenbach, Germany


Dockers live dangerously

Although modern container terminals are highly automated, thereby helping to achieve a major reduction in the risks to life and limb facing their workforces, there is one group which still works under the same conditions, but under steadily increasing time pressures: the stevedores.

As was recently remarked by Lloyds, container ship building has undergone a rapid development in the past few years, but this has not extended to stevedoring systems. Although deck containers are now stacked up to eight deep – a good 25 metres – the lashing and locking techniques remain unchanged. Above the third tier
(or the fifth if using lashing bridges), the boxes are interlocked with twistlocks (TWLs).

Since fully automatic twistlocks are still the exception, the TWLs have to be released manually on unloading (and – if using manual TWLs – locked again after loading). This is performed by the stevedoring gangs from the top tier of containers using long operation rods. And – given the constant imperative to minimise
berthing times – they are constantly up against the clock.

This makes the stevedores’ job highly dangerous: often they work on bays as they are being unloaded from the gantry crane; night work or poor visibility due to bad weather conditions make matters worse and the operation rods too can present a serious hazard when dropped or discarded. According to the statistics, one in two lashing accidents involves the rod. And such accidents resulting in personal injury abound, as evidenced not only by the statistics, but also by accident insurance premiums, which – in German ports for example – are typically three times as high for stevedores as they are for the yard personnel.

Flying not climbing

Serious accidents have made the need for action abundantly clear. Until fully automatic TWLs become standard – which is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future given the persistent safety problems with the types currently on the market – a concerted effort needs to be made to make stevedoring safer.

This task is facilitated by an entirely new type of lash basket. Instead of the conventional cages which are lowered onto the container stacks, with SORT + STORE’s TPC the workers are guided along both sides of the top container tier in narrow pods, enabling them to reach and release the TWLs directly – without using any aids.

The pods are joined horizontally by a telescopic beam allowing stevedores to work on stacks of 20', 40' and 45' containers. The system is suspended from the gantry crane like a standard container, and additional, optionally available securing devices prevent dropping due to operating errors, etc.

The pods are narrow enough to be used in the vast majority of container ships while allowing sufficient freedom of movement for the workers plus extra space for stowing any remaining TWLs or necessary tools. As an added feature, the pods of the TPC S2 type also telescope vertically, so that the stevedores can work through the top container tier while travelling from the land to the seaward side before lowering their pods to the second tier and releasing all the TWLs there on the way back. This reduces unproductive return journeys to the bridge and helps improve economic efficiency.

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