ItÍs everyoneÍs business

ItÍs everyoneÍs business

When I began my tenure with APM Terminals North America, I asked Nike and Target executives how one stevedore could differentiate itself from others. They gave similar answers: They wanted to work with a stevedore that gave them "the best chance for success." That meant their goods should arrive on time and in perfect condition.

Safety is a key element in both criteria. If you establish a safe environment, productivity will improve as the operation becomes incident-free. Without an absolutely safe environment, you are toast -- you can neither deliver cargo on time nor maintain container integrity.

Accomplishing this is an industrywide challenge and requires a cooperative effort among all employers and employees. The International Longshoremen's Association has taken a giant step with the chartering of the Blue Ribbon Safety Panel in the South Atlantic and Gulf. Employer representatives and union leadership over the past three years have mapped out a specific path to safer operations, challenging both labor and management to improve the safety environment. The panel has grappled with how to get both labor and management to embrace a safety culture and has leveraged this communication opportunity into understanding mutual expectations. We have a good start.

The next step is more difficult -- setting and maintaining high safety standards.

During the Blue Ribbon Panel process, the union admitted responsibility for maintaining safety standards, but called upon the employers to apply the same standards across the waterfront. Their job is made tougher when one stevedore maintains a high standard and its next-door neighbor has a relaxed attitude. For instance, if personal protection equipment is required, then this requirement should have the same enforcement at all terminals. Stevedore, heal thyself!

But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Let's face it, many executives are adverse to setting standards that they will be held accountable for while their competition is playing fast and loose.

For the benefit of all who are involved in the industry, stevedores must be held accountable by their customers for standards across-the-board. Start with safety. Customers have a right to see, and should demand to see, what their stevedore is doing to maintain a safe environment.

There are two ways to discern what the stevedore is doing. Statistics on lost-time accidents and incidents are a start, but asking for visibility of leading indicators (positive measures taken on a daily basis) is even better. This leads to an eyebrow raiser -- setting standards, maintaining standards and visibility of that process to the customer.

Six years ago, when you wrote a safety standard for your company to follow, you were cautioned that you were preparing a noose for the hangman. Most legal minds warned against it. They cautioned that OSHA would impale you with it if there were a miscue on your terminal.

That is no longer the case. Senior OSHA officials, including Ed Foulke, assistant secretary of labor, have confided that setting a high standard will not be used against you. The key is to set a standard and enforce it. Subsequently, the government has backed this statement.

If the government can demonstrate a change in attitude, then the stevedore industry can follow suit. Decide what the standards are, meet or exceed them, and let your customer see what you have done both in monitoring conformance and actual performance.

Immediately, ISO and OHSAS standards come to mind. Yes, they are a place to start, but the registrars have created an expensive mine field. The registration industry has proved itself to be out of touch with our business by applying cookie-cutter nonsense. ICHCA International is attempting to put a standard in place for terminals, but that effort will take a few more years before you see it.

The practical and most direct path is for stevedores to develop their own standards that exceed ISO and OHSAS standards and make them visible to the customer. Some stevedores have already done this. Shippers should expect this from everyone.

One of our customer reps once told me that we must treat each container not as a box, but as someone's business. We took it a step further; it's not only their business, it's their livelihood. For the sake of everyone affected by safety on the docks, we need to set high standards and have the backbone to maintain them. The shipper must start the dominoes and expect to see a high standard of performance.