Working in ports can be lucrative, and with shipping a thriving industry, there are plenty of jobs for longshoreman in the U.S. and in ports around the world. The problem with this work is that it can be dangerous, even fatal. Small mistakes or lapses in safety protocol can lead to a disastrous situation that causes injuries, deaths, and property damage. Recent accidents show just how dangerous the work is and that changes need to be made to help keep workers safer.
Port of San Diego Forklift Tragedy
The busy Port of San Diego is just the most recent site of a tragic accident involving a longshoreman. In this case the victim was 54-year-old Phillip Vargas, who worked for the Stevedoring Services-America company. Stevedores are responsible for loading and unloading cargo on and off of ships in ports. The work can be dangerous because it involves operating big equipment and moving heavy cargo that can easily become unstable.
In January of 2018 Vargas was operating a forklift in the San Diego Port when he hit a pillar. He fell out of the forklift, but it continued to move and ran over him, killing him there at the scene of the accident. The employee was known to be an experienced and safety-conscious worker. He was used to operating heavy equipment and lifting cargo. His experience and commitment to safety only further highlight how dangerous the jobs can be working in ports, even for those who follow all the protocols and rules.
Multiple Accidents at Hutchison Ports
Outside the U.S. accidents are often even more common in ports. One company that owns several major international ports, Hutchison Ports, has been criticized recently for having too many accidents, many of them fatal. The most recent occurred at Port Botany in Australia. A woman, 55, who worked on the docks and was a member of the Maritime Union of Australia, fell from her cabin onto concrete in the port, a fall of 23 feet. She was severely injured and put in a coma for brain surgery. A Hutchison Port in Jakarta, Indonesia experienced four separate accidents that resulted in fatalities in the last 18 months alone, a big number for one port.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has urged Hutchison to make changes to reduce the number of accidents befalling their port workers. Before the Port Botany accident, the ITF stated that the company would not let union officials onto the site and did not consult with representatives for health and safety.
These two separate incidents, in San Diego and in Australia, illustrate how dangerous working in ports and as longshoremen can be. In one case the worker was safety-conscious but still not immune to the risks of the work. In the other case the worker was likely let down by her employer who was not committed to strong safety measures to protect its employees. Hutchison is one of the biggest operators in ports and employs more stevedores and dock workers than many other companies. They, and other ports and management companies, owe it to their workers to provide a work environment that is as safe as possible.