Last week, we spoke at length about the importance of ensuring the wellbeing of your staff and how it pertains to the “Whole Person” approach to health and safety. We also invited Shoreham to write an article on what steps they have taken towards the wellbeing of their workforce, which included yoga and mental first aiders. However, how can we encourage the promotion of wellbeing, as well as basic health and safety, at a fundamental level? Today, Colin Bassam from the Port of Blyth and Port Training Services outlines what he sees as the knowledge requirements for the ports sector.
The port industry, led by Port Skills and Safety, has the desire to reduce the number of H&S incidents to zero. This is a big ask in an industry that faces several challenges ranging from the day to day considerations to wider geopolitical concerns. The nature of the work is never constant, unlike a manufacturing production line where it can become an established process that can be easily monitored and controlled. Port work, however, cannot. Each day is different, each cargo is different, each ship is different, the weather changes, the staff change, the time scales change. There are so many different factors to be considered that whatever process is developed it has to be flexible. Which means those undertaking the work, also need to be adaptable and flexible to meet that need.
There are so many different scenarios to be considered some examples of standard daily operations can range from:
- Operating a container gantry crane throughout the night in the depth of winter
- Discharging steel coils on hot summer afternoon from the hold of a ship
- Driving road trailers from a ro- ro vessel in autumn fog.
The list and variety of tasks is endless, but the common dominator is the operative; He must be able to adapt both physically and mentally to these challenges daily. The notification or labour allocation is normally only produced mid to late afternoon when the operative will be notified of his or her duties for the next day and the shift timings could be a vast array of permutations. Early morning, late evening, night, or even a pleasurably eight till four in the afternoon shift. Even once allocated, these are subject to the whims of shipping. So, the mental and physical preparation to undertake such a variety of tasks is difficult as they have very little lead in time.
While basic skills training to operate a piece of port equipment in a safe and proficient manner is achievable, it’s the ability to operate that forklift truck in the hold of ship or in the warehouse at 0340 in the morning that’s the challenge. Then add in the distraction of the mobile phone and the bombardment of social media. The motivation of the operative and the need to maintain that focus constantly to work in a safe and productive manner, no matter what the circumstances, is the key factor to ensure that ports become a totally safe and accident free environment.
The plant operating skills is the starting point, which is vitally important to ensure the operator has command of the basic skills and operating knowledge of that specific bit of kit. This kit can vary in size and capacity so once the basics have been achieved, it is essential that a specific mentoring and familiarisation programme is established to allow the operator to become proficient and competent with the challenging port environment. The model used by Port Training Services, within the Port of Blyth, is that wherever possible the initial and refresher training is delivered to an external accrediting standard. This is the National Plant Operators Registration Scheme (NPORS), which ensures the training is delivered to a standard that is accepted by the HSE and to a consistent high quality. This also eliminates the potential for organisations to introduce their own interpretation of training which can happen where familiarity creeps in and standards slip.
Once the basic training and “on the job” familiarisation is complete, a formal proof of competency is undertaken in the form of the NVQ in Port operations and the technical certificate in stevedoring essentials. This examines both the performance capabilities and the underpinning knowledge against the PSS developed National Occupational Standards. The operator must prove his operating proficiency on three separate occasions within the chosen units to match his job role and provide evidence of the related underpinning knowledge of the activity. This requires a working knowledge of the relevant legislation, the applicable regulations, the industry guidance, such as the SIP documents, the company policies and safe operating procedures, and the associated hazards and preventive measures. It is vitally important that what initiatives and protocols are introduced, that they are relayed to and implemented by others operating within the port and this what the vocational qualifications achieve in three major areas:
- It provides a clear and impartial evidence of competency in terms of the HSE requirements
- It provides the employer with the reassurance of the standard of its operational staff towards its customers
- It provides the operative with a formal qualification as recognition for the achievement of being a competent operator within a challenging environment.
There is also now a formal port operative apprenticeship programme that attracts government funding and encompasses all these qualifications, allowing ports to develop new recruits into safe and competent operators. This is an essential aspect for the sector to improve the age profile of the industry and address the challenges of new technology.
The physical health and mental wellbeing of the individual operative is another major factor to be considered when training and preparing the individual to operate to the optimal proficiency. The factors of the socio- economic situation of the local community do not miraculously disappear once an individual steps through the port entrance. Ports are traditionally surrounded by areas of social deprivation. As many employees are recruited from within these areas it naturally follows that the employees will have certain issues that could affect their working capabilities.
It cannot be denied that poor diet, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol and drug use and even dependency are commonplace within society and especially within areas of deprivation. It is important that ports identify this issue and assist to improve this situation. A port will have produced a rigid service and maintenance programme for its plant and equipment, but can it say the same for its most important component, the operator? Are there any prestart checks on the operator? A lot of companies do drug and alcohol test but that is reactive. What is required is a proactive approach, educate the staff to be fit and healthy, provide the services to help them to do so. It is unavoidable that those working within the port will have to, at times, work long and unsociable hours but ports must ensure that they prepare and support them when doing so. This will inevitably improve the health safety climate of the port.
My message is that we must educate and train those working within the port not just how to drive a bit of plant but how to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle. Invest in those who are your QUAY PEOPLE and give them the knowledge and resources to make themselves the best they can be. In return, we can begin to move on from the safety plateau and ultimately reduce the cost of accidents, lost time, and reputation. A well-known motto is “if you think training is expensive, try paying for an accident."