Deadly docks are not low-risk, warns union
The Government’s designation of an industry whose fatal accident rate is five times the national average as low-risk is “ludicrous” and based on a flawed system of statistics collection and sector coding, according to the UK’s biggest union.
Unite has lambasted the decision to downgrade the docks industry to low-risk – stipulated in last year’s framework document ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’ – claiming that the fatal accident rate in the sector is five times the national average of 0.6 per 100,000 workers.
The claim is based on a recent report in union magazine Hazards, which suggested that around one worker a month is dying in the UK docks and ports sector. It cites five fatalities between 23 October 2011 and 27 January 2012 alone but because of the way the HSE codes injury rates in the sector, it means the regulator is “statistically oblivious to the carnage”.
The HSE groups ports and logistics together under ‘Transport and Storage’ for the purpose of statistics collection, and thus admits that examining health and safety standards in those industries “is not a straightforward task”. An overview of statistics in the sector published on its website last month is full of caveats and disclaimers about how the figures should be interpreted but it nevertheless shows that ‘Transport and Storage’ “exhibits a rate of injury that is considerably higher than the all-industry rate” and its fatality rate is “more than double the all-industry average”.
Another complication is the fact that some areas of ports and docks operations fall under the remit of the Department for Transport and associated bodies.
This “shuffling of deaths into a series of different industry columns” rather than compiling them into a single annual fatality figure means, said the Hazards report, “a shockingly deadly industry appears relatively benign”.
Unite’s executive member for docks, Andy Green, agreed, saying: “This Government’s ludicrous plans for dock safety regulation is nothing short of a recipe for disaster. Since the downgrade of health and safety, the number of fatal injuries has increased and now this Government plans to go further by scrapping the last remaining safeguard for dockworkers.”
That last comment is based on unions’ belief that the Docks Regulations 1988 are to figure among the next batch of legislation to be revoked as part of the Government’s drive to half the number of health and safety regulations. When asked by Hazards to confirm this, a HSE spokesperson said the regulator “has been considering its legislation, including the Docks Regulations, in the context of government initiatives such as the Red Tape Challenge“, adding that there have been “preliminary information discussions. . .about possible revocation”.
Unite’s national officer for docks, Julia Long, called on the Government to have “an urgent rethink” on its position, saying: “[It] is promoting self-regulation within the docks by promoting the unaccountable employers who serve their own interests first and put safety second. The Government must urgently recognise that docks are high-risk workplaces and scrap its plans to revoke the Docks Regulations.”
Anne Jones, whose 24-year-old son Simon was killed on his first day of work at Shoreham Docks 14 years ago, was “appalled” at the number of deaths on UK docks. In a statement, she said: “We fought a campaign of justice for Simon – something we never got – and for an end to deaths on the docks. Clearly, things have not got safer and the lessons that could have been learned from Simon’s death haven’t been – by government or employers.”
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