OSH and accident prevention for port workers with sustAGE

On the 14 of July 2020, a team of dock workers began with cargo discharging operation aboard a general cargo vessel berthed at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium. During the discharging operations, one of the dock workers assigned with the task of coordination between the dockers in the vessels holds and the vessel’s crew wanted to check on the operations of the dock workers team. As he did that, he put himself between a hatch cover positioned on the vessel’s deck the and the vessel’s gantry crane operating for lifting the hatch. The dock worker was crashed between the hatch cover and the gantry crane and died immediately due to the catastrophic injuries sustained (Maritime Accident Investigation Branch report, 12/2021).

Pending cargo and container parts, falling lashing equipment, heavy machinery like port cranes and vessel gear, heavy vehicle traffic in the port, work in confined spaces like vessel holds, handling dangerous goods and fumigated containers, dust, noise, external high and low temperature, fatigue, working on heights, slips and falls: dock work is a dangerous job of heavy physical demands and highly dynamic contextual conditions that require adaptivity and vigilance. Risks and hazards for OSH need to be appropriately managed in order to avoid occupational accidents and injuries with severe consequences for assets and workers’ physical and psychosocial integrity alike (ILO, 2018)1.

OSH is an important factor for the entire workforce in ports. However, safety performance is even more important for the ageing workforce. Older workers in general show better safety performance and experience less accidents and injuries than their younger counterparts. Notwithstanding this fact, when accident happen they have severe implications for older workers and their overall health and Work Ability, as they may need a longer time for a full recovery. Moreover, any ensuing injuries may coincide with other health issues and lead to a premature exit from the active workforce. It is therefore important that older dock workers are supported in safety awareness and accident prevention, especially against hazards that can have extremely negative consequences for their health and safety.

sustAGE contributes to improvement of OSH and accident prevention for the entire workforce but especially for the older employees by actively influencing safety awareness through enhanced perception of such hazards. Utilizing a multimodal environment of sensors that provide workers with real-time information of their surroundings and their health state, sustAGE puts into practice OSH-promoting interventions that are directly communicated to workers and team leaders as “recommendations” for safe behaviour. The areas of OSH interventions at the pilot site of HPA are based on the direct assessment of the port workers needs through questionnaires and interviews conducted by IFADO at the start of the project.

One of the recommendation-based interventions for OSH that has been assigned critical significance by all port workers and is integrated in sustAGE, targets directly the management and prevention of collisions with heavy machinery and pending cargo during operations. Based on data of positioning of cargo, crane and workers and camera detection mechanisms, sustAGE warns immediately workers on the proximity of the crane to their position. Dock workers are alarmed and urged to keep a safe distance from the moving crane and from the falling zone of the respective pending cargo. In this way, a severe collision with the crane as well as potential injury from falling objects/cargo is prevented.

Photo. Getty images

Additionally, sustAGE supports OSH best practices such as safety-related communication, planning of activities and adaptive team performance for the whole team involved in port operations. sustAGE sends recommendations to the foremen of the dock workers teams and the crane operators prior to take on cargo operations with respect to briefings and planning of cargo ops; reminders to the team of safe behaviour (for prevention of slips and falls, and handling of lashing equipment); for checking on the use of personal protection equipment (hard hats, safety shoes, harnesses, gloves etc.); and for planning contingency management for unanticipated events and interruptions of the work process.

Through these interventions, sustAGE promotes safety performance, 360° safety awareness and accident prevention for the entire workforce during cargo operations. Furthermore, it contributes to the overall goal of sustainable work and healthy ageing by supporting older workers avoid accidents and injuries and maintain good health and Work Ability.


  1. ILO code of practice: Safety and health in ports (Revised 2016). International Labour Office, Geneva, 2018