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News Release USDL 97-241
Friday, July 18, 1997
CONTACT: Frank Kane, (202) 219-8151

Longshoring Regulations Undergo Most Sweeping Overhaul In 30 Years

Labor Secretary Herman Releases First Rules of Her Tenure

As many as 1,300 injuries may be avoided and several lives saved each year in American ports under a sweeping update of safety rules aimed at protecting workers in longshoring and marine terminal work, Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman announced today.

The new rules, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), are expected to save more than 30,000 lost work days each year, reducing the expenses employers incur to pay for these injuries by several million dollars annually.

"These new regulations give us an opportunity to protect workers against the hazards associated with new technology for cargo-handling," Secretary Herman said. "Labor and management in the industry -- including small employers -- worked with OSHA to develop a solid consensus in support of these new rules."

Secretary Herman and Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Gregory R. Watchman will sign the new rules today during a ceremony in the Department of Labor with representatives of unions and management in the industry. They are the first worker safety rules issued since Herman became Secretary of Labor in May.

Watchman noted that OSHA had been using standards for longshoring that dated back to the 1960's. Conditions in the industry have changed dramatically since then.

Cargo handling has become more capital intensive and mechanized in the last 20 years. New technologies include intermodalism, which describes the transfer of cargo from one mode of transportation to another, such as from rail to ship; containerization, the use of large containers for the cargo; and roll-on, roll-off ships, vessels where the cargo can be driven on or off the vessel on ramps and moved within the vessel on ramps or elevators.

Although the weight of transported cargo (U.S. exports and imports) remained unchanged between 1980 and 1990, the amount shipped via intermodal containers more than doubled.

Changes in cargo transport technology have altered risks that employees face on the docks and aboard ships. Mechanization has reduced injuries due to overexertion and lifting, but new risks have arisen, such as falls from containers stacked as high as 60 feet or being struck by forklifts and tractor trailers moving containers.

The entire set of longshoring standards has been modernized. OSHA also amended parallel sections of the standards for marine terminals to provide regulatory consistency between shipboard and shoreside operations.

In addition to protecting workers against hazards posed by new technology, the new regulations also permit OSHA to conform to international shipping requirements. Ships that call on U.S. ports are essentially work sites built to international standards. OSHA's former longshoring rules referenced an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention adopted in 1932. The new rules reference an ILO convention adopted in 1979 with requirements that will provide greater protection to workers and address modern cargo handling methods.

OSHA estimates that the annual additional cost of compliance will amount to about $3.1 million, but the economic savings due to injuries that are avoided will be about $7 million annually, resulting in a net savings of almost $4 million.

Organizations that worked with OSHA on the rules included the International Longshoremen's Association, the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, the National Maritime Safety Association, American Association of Port Authorities, the Pacific Maritime Association, the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association, the International Maritime Organization, and the International Standards Organization.

OSHA plans an extensive outreach program that includes development of training materials and training sessions in every major port that will involve training OSHA and state inspectors, employers, workers, and Coast Guard personnel.

States with their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health programs whose plans cover the issues of maritime safety and health must revise their existing standard within six months of the publication date of the final standard or show OSHA why there is no need for such action because an existing state standard covering this area is already "at least as effective" as the revised federal standard.

Notice of the final rules will be published shortly in the Federal Register.


  • About 3,700 establishments are affected by the longshoring and marine terminals standards.

  • More than 93,000 longshore workers are affected by the standards. Most of them are employed in the marine cargo handling industry with the remainder in other industries and establishments such as electric utilities that unload coal from barges or grain elevators that load grain onto barges.

  • About 1.74 billion tons of cargo are handled in the U.S. annually.

  • The value of cargo is almost $900 billion.

  • There is an average of 18 fatalities per year during marine cargo handling activities.

  • There are an estimated 7,593 injuries per year, including 5,060 lost-workday cases with an average of 38.9 lost workdays per case.

  • Approximately 1,300 injuries and five fatalities are projected to be avoided by compliance with the existing standards and the provisions of the new rule.

  • Estimated cost to industry: about $3.1 million annually.

  • Engineering controls to be phased in to greatly reduce the fall hazard of working on the tops of containers. Such falls will be almost completely eliminated through use of positive container securing devices. The requirement to use such devices ( e.g. semi-automatic twist locks that greatly reduce the need to go aloft to unsecure and secure containers, and above-deck cell guides for containers) in conjunction with the use of container gantry cranes is being phased in over a two-year period. This will allow sufficient time for the international shipping community to comply.

  • During the phase-in period, fall protection systems must be used. In addition, for ships being unloaded with non-container gantry cranes where positive container securing devices do not eliminate the need to work on top of containers, fall protection also is required. Labor and management reached consensus on an 8- foot fall protection trigger height. This will provide worker protection consistent with other parts of the marine cargo handling regulations and is economically and technically feasible.

  • These rules improve the old rules in the following ways:

    1. specification changed to performance language where possible

    2. in harmony with international guidelines. These international provisions involve testing and inspection requirements for cranes and other lifting gear. Because the requirements have a direct impact on the international marine cargo community, OSHA is providing ample phase-in periods for compliance: one year for testing and four years for inspection.

    3. modernized and clarified sections

    4. mandatory and non-mandatory appendices are included to assist compliance and provide improved worker protection.

  • Several new sections address changes in technology that have occurred since the rule was first written:

    1. Handling containers. Ports that use container gantry cranes (specially designed cranes used exclusively for lifting intermodal freight containers) perform vertical lifts only. A non-vertical lift is typically made with four wires connected to the hook of a non-container gantry crane or to a spreader bar. Non-vertical lifts impose stress on the container and its fittings, increasing the risk of a container failure. Non- vertical lifts also increase the chance of snagging containers on ships' parts and rigging. International container design standards permit only vertical lifts, but non-vertical lifting is a common practice. A prohibition on non-vertical lifts would largely affect smaller ports and small employers. Based on a study performed by a recognized international expert on intermodal containers, and with the consensus of labor and management, OSHA concluded that, under certain conditions, lifts that were nearly vertical would be a practical and effective safe practice. These "controlled conditions" are spelled out in the rule.

    2. Roll on/roll off (Ro/Ro) vessel operations. These are vessels where the cargo can be driven on or off the vessel on ramps and moved within the vessel on ramps or elevators. Traffic patterns can vary greatly in these vessels, exposing personnel to being struck by vehicular traffic. There are provisions for establishing traffic control systems and protecting workers who might use the ship's ramp for access.

    3. Loading logs from the water.

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents

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