Longshoring regulations undergo major overhaul

A sweeping update of longshoring regulations is expected to save more than 30,000 lost workdays, 1,300 injuries, and several lives each year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Washington, DC.

The new rules were announced in July and represent the first significant update to the longshoring rule since the 1960s. Conditions in the industry have changed dramatically since then, so an extensive revision of the OSHA regulations was necessary to protect workers.

Cargo handling has become more capital intensive and mechanized in the last 20 years, with new technology that allows the transfer of cargo from one mode of transportation to another, the use of large containers for cargo, and ships that allow cargo to be driven on or off the vessel on ramps.

Mechanization brings new dangers

Those changes in transport technology have altered the risks faced by employees on docks and aboard ships. Mechanization has reduced injuries from overexertion and lifting, but the change has brought new risks, such as falling from containers stacked as high as 60 feet or being struck by forklifts and tractor trailers.

The new rules will be phased in over the next four years. OSHA plans an extensive outreach program that includes development of educational materials and training sessions in every major port that will involve training OSHA and state inspectors, employers, workers, and Coast Guard personnel. About 3,700 facilities and more than 93,000 longshore workers will be affected by the new standards.

These are some highlights of the new longshoring standards:

• Falls will be greatly reduced by requiring engineering changes, such as container securing devices that eliminate the need for workers to routinely go aloft to secure and unsecure containers. During the phase-in period, fall protection systems must be used, with an 8-foot fall protection trigger.

• Facilities using container gantry cranes — specially designed cranes used for lifting freight containers — will be allowed to perform only vertical or near-vertical lifts. A nonvertical lift currently is common, achieved with special rigging that allows the crane to pull on the container at an angle. Though useful for employers, the nonvertical lifts create the risk of snagging the container or rigging on shipboard fittings, putting excessive stress on the container and increasing the risk of container failure.

• Roll on/roll off vessels will be required to follow standard traffic patterns that reduce the risk of workers being struck by vehicular traffic.