Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Can Further Autonomous Advances Cut Death Rates in Shipping and Logistics Industry?

Technology Might Help Eliminate Supply Chains Biggest Killer - Human Error
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – We have already pondered this month as to whether the introduction of autonomous vessels might mitigate the sort of tragic accidents we have witnessed at sea this year. Certainly the untimely deaths of seventeen US Navy crew in two separate incidents was down, in whole or in part, to human error. Now the latest article from the TT Club, which claims the title of the world's largest transport and logistics insurer, elaborates on the hazards of working in the sector, even when not actually at sea.

This week the news came of a second recent death in the Port of Jakarta, a driver killed by a reefer container falling onto his truck. Unions blame procedures and, once again, these are systems devised and operated by humans, systems which often lend themselves admirably to further automation, yet which need upgrading to minimise risks.

The TT Club points out the statistics: 30% of the accidents in the cargo handling sector involve lorries and other vehicles; 23% lift trucks, such as fork lifts, reach stackers etc.; cranes 19% and straddle carriers 13%. Note, all of these involve equipment, the outstanding 15% is almost all made up by trips, slips and falls, and it takes little imagination to calculate the comparative relative seriousness of the average incident of each type.

Ports and terminals, despite, and possibly in some cases because of, more mechanisation, account for almost a third of the insurance claims lodged with the brokers. Introducing technology can be a great time and effort saver but unless grafted on with relevant operational procedures to protect workforce, cargo and any visitors to the site, the dangers can actually be exacerbated. Formerly a docker might strain his back trying to lift something, now a container rigger can be crushed simply because a crane driver is unaware of his presence or he is improperly trained and is working in an unsafe manner.

The TT Club has examined processes involved in port management and has identified four simple operational procedures which could, at a stroke, cut the odds of an accident drastically if fully implemented. The first involves introducing a one-way traffic system throughout the cargo management area. This has proved to be a major factor when applied in previously hazardous port and terminal locations and has in fact often aided productivity.

Limiting access to unauthorised and untrained visitors is another common sense procedure, as is that proper induction training of anyone coming into the working environment in whatever capacity. Despite all the moans about ‘too much Health & Safety’ this is something which is mandatory on all UK building sites and should equally apply to visiting drivers and others before they have permission to enter a cargo handling area.

The last recommendation is for a safe, separate location in which truckers can lock and unlock trailer/chassis twistlocks. This of course is an essential activity which comes under the area of a driver’s responsibility yet most are forbidden to leave their cabs when on port property, a paradox which simply needs a little management. As the recent Jakarta accident horrifically illustrates, a driver MUST leave his or her cab when loading from above is under way, automated or not.

We are in an age where technology with regard to all aspects of logistics is moving at breakneck speed. The nirvana (for some – Hell for others) of a fully automated supply chain is likely to be an unreachable dream, machines go wrong, yet certainly there are certain aspects in the industry which lend themselves to ever more sophisticated automation. Certainly it should be possible to create a system in which trains or trucks arrive, are remotely guided into place and loaded and unloaded using mostly available machinery, suitably adapted and programmed to almost eliminate the necessity for the presence of humans in the danger zone.

And there in fact, is where the advantages and shortcomings of autonomous operations might be illustrated. You can programme a machine to load and unload a ship, rail wagon or vehicle, yet that final check, securing the load, will still mostly necessitate human intervention. The trick is to create an environment where the risk of injury becomes vanishingly small, and is an end to which it is well worth working.

Photo: This shot from 2014 after a container fell on a car perfectly illustrates the risks. Despite the space in the vehicle being reduced to just 60 centimetres the couple inside survived!