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October 29, 2009

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Union slams code on ports safety record

The union that represents workers in the UK ports industry is angry

that, in the wake of a number of recent accidents at UK ports, a

voluntary Code of Practice has not been made mandatory.

An updated version of the Port Marine Safety Code was launched on 29 October, providing improved guidelines for ports on how to implement their safety management systems.

First published in March 2000, the Code of Practice covers the management of safety for marine activities in ports. Harbour authorities that sign up to the Code are required, among other things, to: use risk-assessment techniques to review all marine operations; develop and maintain a safety management system; and appoint a ‘designated person’ to provide independent assurance to the harbour board of the authority’s compliance.

Improvements made to the revised document include:
€ᄁ clearer definitions of roles — notably those of the duty-holder and ‘designated person’;
€ᄁ advice on incident management to harbour authorities;
€ᄁ details of relevant new legislation; and
€ᄁ information and links for port personnel to learn lessons arising from Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) reports.

However, the Nautilus union believes that full compliance with the Code’s requirements will never be realised until the document carries weight in law. A spokesperson told SHP: “We are extremely disappointed that the Code has not been made mandatory. There has been a series of accidents in ports around the UK, which, in our view, clearly demonstrate, without any shadow of doubt, the failures of the Code to deal with some quite fundamental problems at ports across the country.”

He pointed out that the Code had failed to tackle the issue of vessel traffic services (VTS) — the industry equivalent of air-traffic control — and said the UK was behind the rest of Europe in terms of port-safety standards in this area. Last week, a Private Member’s Bill was introduced in the Commons amid concerns that safety recommendations by the MAIB are being ignored by industry.

Speaking ahead of the launch of the Code, deputy chief inspector at the MAIB, Steve Clinch, said: “Investigations into previous accidents, within port and harbour limits, have highlighted how important it is for port operators to maintain robust safety regimes.

“The MAIB has recently raised concerns over the industry’s ability to learn from previous accidents but the launch of the refreshed Port Marine Safety Code and, in particular, the industry’s ownership of the Guide to Good Practice, provides me with encouragement that there is now clear recognition about the importance of the Code.”

Introducing the new Code, Paul Clark said: “I hope that by updating the Code, the industry will have an even clearer guide to port marine safety, enabling them to continue the excellent work they already do.”

Port of London Authority chief harbour master, David Snelson, added: “The Port Marine Safety Code is the cornerstone of UK harbour authorities’ operations. This new edition provides improved guidelines and principles for each port’s safety management system, which identifies risks and steps needed to eliminate or keep them to a minimum. This helps ensure people, vessels and the environment stay safe.

“The revision to the Code brings a consistent template to this important safety tool, which can be scaled up or down to suit large ports like London, or smaller harbours like Fowey.”

Copies of the new Code and Guide can be found on the DfT website by clicking here.

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