Health and Safety: An Exterior Perspective

Published: Thursday, November 26, 2020 - 09:16

One of the actions undertaken in the last year of which PSS is most proud is the appointment of a new board of directors. Where previous boards have been derived solely from the ports industry, this one retains a robust port knowledge base combined with new perspectives and experiences from different disciplines. Just from the articles contributed to our “Protecting Quay People” campaign, readers can see that this has yielded a diverse range of views on health and safety in ports. These fresh perspectives are already helping us to learn from other industries, stretch ourselves and our sector and deliver even more positive change.  Today, Johnny Schute, Chief Operating Officer for the Rail Safety and Standards Board, provides an insight into how lessons learned from the rail industry can be ascribed to the ports sector.


Johnny Schute
Johnny Schute

There are six main aspects to health and safety in the ports sector that should always be considered. First and foremost, everything begins with having the right culture within the industry. It has been repeated by unions, safety instructors, and even other board members, but it is vital that everyone considers health and safety as “their business”. With the assistance of the entire port staff, at all levels of management, standards can be monitored and assured on a regular basis. Likewise, calling out inadequate standards should be an accepted practice, whether you are a manager or an apprentice. Secondly, there needs to be an accepted health and safety strategy that all port CEOs sign up to – in blood if necessary. A strategy that is founded on confronting the existential risk of today and the emerging risk of tomorrow. As we heard from Dr Alan Page last week, this is not just a matter of “doing the right thing” for your staff, but also concerned with good business and saving money in the long term. This leads to the third aspect to consider which is one of cost. Expenditure on curtailing risk needs to be proportionate, and balancing risk against reasonable cost is crucial.


Following on from strategy, the fourth aspect of health and safety should be policy. Having a nationwide strategy is only as effective as the policies individual ports enact to translate that plan into working practices. This would require a level of oversight to ensure policies are being followed and may require SiPs to transition from guidance to mandatory standards. Traditionally, PSS has shied away from acting as a regulator, however, there has been a growing call from certain sectors for PSS to adopt a more prominent and assertive role. Whatever form that oversight takes, the fifth aspect is that there must be an efficient and clear method of monitoring and assurance. For example, there should be a straightforward way to request and provide data in a coherent and transparent fashion. This isn’t for competitive purposes, but to allow the industry to judge the effectiveness of strategy and policy. This would also allow for the reporting of health and safety issues in a comprehensive manner, leading to insight into, and the mitigation of, future accidents. Finally, training is fundamental to the safe conduct of port operations. Last week, we heard from instructors and safety experts on the importance of proper education and training in ports, and how embedding safety in that process is essential for the welfare of staff.


PSS wishes to thank Johnny Schute for his contribution to the “Protecting Quay People” campaign and providing his experience in rail to our board of directors. We finish today’s article by continuing to look at practices that have worked in other industries and seeing what can be applied to the ports sector. CIRAS is an independent organisation which provides a confidential service for reporting potential hazards in transport and shipping, and we have invited them to give an overview of what that could mean for PSS and our industry.


Protect your people by listening


CIRASYou can’t fix a health and safety risk if you don’t know about it.  Sounds pretty self-explanatory, doesn’t it?  But can you really keep an eye on everything going on at the quayside?  How do you pick up on unsafe working conditions and behaviours every time, preventing incidents before they happen?


It is possible - with a little help.  Your frontline staff are your eyes and ears, and you can be sure that if things aren’t safe, they will know.  They key is to encourage them to tell you.  And you do that by showing them you are listening.


This month, Port Skills and Safety (PSS) has been talking about the ‘Whole Person’ approach – thinking about health, safety, and wellbeing issues from the perspective of individuals and how they ‘tick’.  Understanding this will help you empower people to speak up.


There are lots of reasons why someone might hesitate to raise safety and wellbeing concerns.  They may not have the confidence or be unsure how to do it.  They may have seen others who have tried and been unsuccessful.  They may fear the consequences.  They might not want anyone to know they are anxious or afraid. 


Creating an open culture, where the senior team demonstrably welcomes information on health and safety issues, regardless of where this comes from, is key.  By making it easy for your people to speak up – and listening when they do – you send a positive message to your staff that their voice matters, and you get vital intelligence that just might save a life.


Providing people with a range of ways in which they can share their concern is critical.  Everyone is different and giving people choices helps ensure nobody gets left out.  There’s a host of ways that companies help their people share what’s on their mind – safety reps, reporting hotlines, suggestion boxes, online reporting apps, to name but a few.  And some companies provide their staff with the option to contact an independent reporting service in complete confidence. 


At CIRAS we have been offering confidential reporting for health and safety concerns to our members for over 20 years, originally in the rail sector and more recently in bus, tram, supply chain, highways, and ports.  In an ideal world, we would not be needed, of course – if we could guarantee that people would speak up 100% of the time.   But that is not the real world, and every year individuals come to us in confidence and we listen to what’s concerning them.  We then pass it to our member to give them the opportunity to act. 


Sounds like whistleblowing?  There is a difference.  Whistleblowing presumes there has been some kind of wrongdoing.  Confidential reporting is more about listening and sharing intelligence which can help make workplaces safer and healthier.  It is not about blame.     


Like PSS, CIRAS is a not-for-profit member organisation, and this year we have been talking with them about our common goal – to help workers go home safely at the end of every day.  What is interesting is that many of the risks in the ports sector are similar to those experienced on the railway and in other transport environments.   Common themes we hear about at CIRAS include fatigue, equipment and plant issues, trip hazards and road-related risks – and this year we have seen a big rise in wellbeing concerns as Covid-19 affects us all. 


The safety record in the ports sector is improving, but it can always be better.  We want to join forces to share learning and encourage more ports businesses to come and join the CIRAS community.  Together, we can help make sure everyone is heard.


Find out more about CIRA, contact Marc Spillman at or call 07876 578981 or visit the website at


Our thanks to Marc Spillman and Susan Gray from CIRAS for providing us an insight into the philosophy and benefits of CIRAS.