Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Health and Safety Executive (P 11)


  1.  HSE is the government agency responsible for enforcing the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and associated secondary legislation within ports. The most important of these for docks are the Docks Regulations 1988, the Dangerous Substances in Harbour Areas Regulations 1987 and the regulations introduced to implement the EC's Health and Safety Framework Directive. This legislation applies not only to the docks, but to the ships when shore based workers are on board. It does not apply to health and safety issues when work is carried out solely by the ship's crew under the direction of the master. These are enforced under merchant shipping legislation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). HSE has a Memorandum of Understanding with MCA which sets out the respective jurisdiction and functions of the two organisations.


  2.  Work in docks is dangerous. Although the industry is relatively small in employment terms (the Annual Employment Survey for 1998-99 showed there were 23,698 employees in Standard Industrial Classification SIC 63220) the number of accidents reported (695 in 1998-99 and 709 in 1999-2000) means that the reported accident rate is 2,933 per 100,000. This is higher than for other land based industries, the nearest comparison being coal mining and quarrying at 2,732 per 100,000.

  3.  HSC/E consider that the underlying causes of the high accident rate are the inherent danger of the work and inadequate management control, training and risk assessments compounded by the commercial pressures on docks to load and unload ships quickly. The main health and safety issues causing concern include:

    —  workplace transport—both on the quayside and in the holds of ships;

    —  falls from heights;

    —  cargo handling and stacking;

    —  musculoskeletal risks faced by crane and plant drivers and those handling heavy loads; and

    —  protection for those working in dusty or noxious conditions.

  4.  The ports are the UK's interface with the rest of the world and the docker's workplace is frequently the ship itself. The Ports Safety Organisation estimate that a third of dock accidents occur on board ships. Many older ships, particularly from third world countries, are in poor condition. Certain new types of ship are designed to maximise payload and minimise port charges with the result that the design hinders safe working.


5.  Policy and legislation

  • Apply the Revitalising Health and Safety Strategy to ports—areas of particular relevance are detailed in Modern Ports: A UK Policy (page 39).

  • Update the legislation to reflect changes in the industry, make it clearer and easier for port managers to follow. A start has been made on this—work on the new Dangerous Goods in Harbours Regulations is well advanced and initial discussions have taken place with industry and trade unions on revising the Docks Regulations and the Approved Code of Practice "Safety in Docks". This together with associated guidance will address the health and safety concerns outlined in paragraph 3 above.

  • Liaise with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to enable the Government to ratify the ILO Convention 152 on dock work. The ILO is considering revising its Code of Practice and Guidance on the Convention.

6.  Management

  • Make Directors and senior port managers more aware of their responsibilities (eg for managing the safety of operations, liaison with ship masters and control of dock premises). A key step in this process will be a conference on 12 March organised with the help of the Ports Safety Organisation, at which John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister,[14] and Bill Callaghan, the Chair of HSC, will speak.

  • Encourage the introduction of adequate initial safety training for all new dock workers.

  • Encourage the extension of the industry's "passport" scheme which covers non-permanent employees (those employed on a casual basis or supplied by labour agencies) and their initial training, so that it includes all their qualifications (eg what types of plant they have been passed to work on); and applies to all those employed in dock work.

  • HSE Inspectors have been making extra visits to several large ports during 2000-01 to emphasise the importance of management and training, particularly in relation to other port users and sub-contractors.

7.  Enforcement

  • HSE takes firm action against those who deliberately work in a dangerous manner or who do not maintain their premises safely.

    —  The Port, Lloyds and the (Swedish) manufacturers concerned were prosecuted after the Port of Ramsgate walkway collapse. The fines imposed totalled £1,700,000 and are among the highest imposed for a breach of health and safety legislation. (Although the fines levied on the manufacturers have not yet been recovered, HSE is seeking provision at EU level for the recovery of fines in such circumstances).
  • In the course of routine visits, HSE Inspectors are concentrating on the particular health and safety issues mentioned in paragraph 3 above, as well as the management issues in paragraph 6.

Work on ships

  • Improve the liaison arrangements with the MCA so that ships which are potentially dangerous are reported quickly, enabling MCA to take action under its legislation.

  • Provide evidence of the consequences of potentially unsafe designs, so that MCA can refer the matter to the International Maritime Organisation, with a view to obtaining international agreement on improving the minimum standards.

Health and Safety Executive

18 January 2001

14   The Deputy Prime Minister was unable to attend the Safer Ports Conference, and Keith Hill MP, Minister for Shipping and Ports, deputised for him. Back

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