Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Disabling Injuries in Longshore Operations

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Disabling Injuries in Longshore Operations

Article excerpt

Disabling injuries in longshore operations

In colonial times, bells summoned men of varied trades to the hazardous task of manually unloading ships along the shore. Today, cargo handling on the waterfront is quite mechanized, but the risks of disabling injuries are still evident, even for the experienced dockworkers who dominate these jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked the incidence of injuries and illnesses among longshore workers as part of its 1987 annual survey; it reported 10 cases in which worktime was lost for every 100 full-time workers in water transportation services, compared with about 4 per 100 in the total private sector. The severity of these disabling longshore cases, moreover, is also evident in the number of workdays lost: an average of 41 days per case, double the national average (18 days).(1)

The frequency and severity of injuries involving longshore operations prompted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to request a special BLS study.(2) In response, a longshoring study was designed that, unlike the BLS annual survey, focused on the characteristics of workers and their injuries as well as the factors surrounding the incident, such as worksite conditions at the time of the accident and use of personal protective equipment. In addition to loading and unloading ships, this study included cases at shoreside operations of marine terminals and related areas where cargo is handled and stored and where cargo handling and other equipment is maintained.

Four-fifths of the 582 cases included in this study were placed in seven distinct job categories. (See table 1.) The "holdman," who commonly works below the deck of a vessel where the cargo is stowed, was numerically the most important job title, accounting for three-tenths of the total cases. "Driver" (forklifts, tractors, and so forth) accounted for one-sixth, and "dockman"--who assists equipment operators to hook on cargo, for example--made up one-eight of the injured. Other injured workers were either classified as checker, deckman, maintenance mechanic, or warehouse worker, or were placed in the "other" category--a diverse group ranging from first-line supervisor to general laborer.

Youth and inexperience were not contributing factors to longshoring injuries: Three-fourths of those injured were 35 years or older, and four-fifths had been in their job category for at least 5 years. There were indications that the age-experience profile for injured workers mirrored that for all longshoring workers. Automation and foreign competition, for instance, have greatly reduced the amount of labor needed to handle cargo, thus limiting the entry of new workers into the industry.

The study reported on how longshore injuries occurred (accident type and source of injury) and described the injury (nature and part of body affected).(3) Most commonly, injuries were the result of being struck by or striking against crates, containers, and other cargo, or similar contact with cargo-handling equipment. Falls and overexertion (from lifting heavy objects) were also characteristics of longshoring accidents. Resulting injuries usually were muscle sprains and strains (especially to the back and lower extremities), serious cuts and bruises, and fractures.

About four-fifths of these longshoring cases resulted in lost worktime; not surprisingly, the most serious injuries, such as fractures and back sprains, usually required several weeks away from the physically demanding work of the docks. …

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