© Luigi Angelica

Safety & training

Why people still die in ports

by Port News Editorial Staff

In a country that calls itself civilized, no-one should die on the job anymore! How many times have we heard this phrase uttered while commenting  on tragedies that have affected our ports over the last few years with an alarming frequency, to say the least?

A tugboat sinking  in Bari, which cost five people their lives; the fatal fall of 33-year-old Alessandro Zabeo, in an accident onboard  a ship in the port of Venice; and the tragic demise  of Pasquale Piras, who died when his truck  ended up in the sea, in  the construction site area along the “east” bank of Cagliari’s Canal Port.

These are just a few of the unacceptable recent casualties  but the list could be much longer if we think back  to 2021. “We can only express our deep regret for a situation in which we are powerless to act which has been going on for far too long, but we have a duty to do something practical to reduce safety problems in our ports.”

This is how Assiterminal director general Alessandro Ferrari begins his refection talking to Port News. “When similar incidents happen, there is often a tendency to say that the solution is to intensify port controls. From my point of view, this approach is wrong. Instead, The real challenge is to define standardized organizational models that are applicable in any port layout.”

This is another reason why Assiterminal  (the Italian terminal operators’ association- Translator’s note) just recently launched a new initiative on safety and training (after the path that led to RINA’s Biosafety Certification): “At this historical moment, we have very little faith  in the possibility of a rapid, effective upgrading of  the most important safety legislation, the 272/1999 decree. Too many ministries and actors need to be involved to seriously address the issue. We therefore decided to work from the bottom up, launching the PortSafetyValues project.”

The aim is to develop and promote processes and management systems that can allow companies in the industry to continue to develop, while, at the same time, setting up  a national conduct  and procedure network to make working in ports increasingly safer.

To achieve this, Assiterminal drew on the expertise of three consulting companies: SIGE, which was given the task of working on management models and risk assessment. Scuola Nazionale Trasporti e Logistica (SNTL), which was given the task of organizing training activities. And Gesta, for organizational consulting activities in favor, above all, of small businesses “that need a hand in verifying  how suitable  their organizational processes are.”

Alessandro Ferrari is convinced: “We want to encourage our members to certify themselves based on well-defined standards and parameters. It is the only real way we can succeed in increasing workplace safety.”

Over the next few days, the Association will be giving all its members a survey to  fill out: “A few questions aimed at workers, RSPPs (Heads of the Prevention and Protection Service – Translator’s note) and employers, to understand what the general sentiment is on the degree of perceived safety in their specific  ports,” Ferrari explains, adding “We expect to have the answers within a month. We will need them to better calibrate  how far we can go and to develop new initiatives.”

At the same time, Assiterminal intends to make a move on another front: “We would like to involve INAIL (Italian National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work– Translator’s note)   and/or the Ministry of Labour to open a table on the drafting of guidelines on risk assessment in ports. Without the amendment  of the 272 decree, we believe that this initiative may allow us to establish common principles on the subject valid erga omnes,” says the association’s general director.

The fact that uniformity of organizational and management processes in ports is the goal to be achieved is also clear from the words of Stefano Mordeglia: “Port controls are necessary but not sufficient to raise safety standards in ports,” the SIGE director stresses. “Unfortunately, in Italy controls are done only after an accident has occurred. Malfunction issues or noncompliance with safety standards occur because we are used to considering risk assessment as a regulatory obligation and that’s all.”

Mordeglia, who has 10 years’ experience as PSA’s safety manager, knows how difficult it is to get port safety considered  vitally important and for people to actively participate in it: “For decades, safety has been interpreted as mere compliance with a legal obligation. Instead, it must become a strategic company asset. We have taken  this challenge on board and believe we can, together with other partners, make a difference.”

That’s where the three companies come into play: “The goal is to improve standards of accident and injury prevention. Environmental protection and safety must definitely be included in  every terminal operator’s business plan,” Mr  Mordeglia adds, stressing that the economic and operational performance of a port company is closely linked to its ability to organize risk assessment and management processes: “I have never in my life seen a badly organized company bring home noteworthy financial results. On the contrary. Where a safety culture is lacking, everything else is often lacking. This is coming from someone who has worked for years in a company that, with unchanged organizational processes, has managed to coordinate a major multi-sector project, which resulted in the largest final destination terminal  reducing   accidents by 84 %, and increasing its traffic volumes by 85%.”

According to the SIGE director, safety is an ethical issue, before being even a profession: “Assessing and managing risks at the highest level is an imperative. It is necessary to get all company levels working in synergy so that safety is seen not simply as something that has to be complied with, but as a common value. The focus must be shifted from “safety as compliance” to “safety as performance.” And never forget that our job is to get everyone home at the end of the shift-there are our loved ones, our little daily joys.”

Training is also an indispensable link in the chain. “We firmly believe in the value of the initiative Assiterminal has set up ,” says SNTL director Federica Catani. “We have been involved in training activities in the port and logistics sector for some time now, and we believe that organizational and safety culture is crucial  for influencing organizational behavior and values at  company level. Training is not just a legal obligation, but something  through which to raise the bar on a company’s ability to work safely.”

Translation by Giles Foster

Go to Top