Safety Update: Bulk and General Stevedoring - Use of Work Cages on Ships' Cranes

Published: 27 Aug 2023


Bulk and General Stevedoring - Use of Work Cages on Ships' Cranes

28 August 2023



For some time the Union and MUA members have been concerned about the use of work cages being used on ships cranes in bulk and general stevedoring operations.
Ship cranes on general cargo vessels are notoriously unreliable and prone to failure.
There have been many instances of free falling blocks, of booms crashing to the deck and even cranes breaking from the bullring of the crane.
We would never want see workers falling, trapped in a cage when any of these malfunctions occurred.

Meeting with AMSA and SafeWork NSW

A recent meeting convened by the MUA with AMSA representatives and SafeWork NSW explored the use of work cages on these types of cranes.
Agreement was reached that work cages on these types of ships cranes in bulk and general stevedoring operations should not occur except in an emergency situation.

Stevedoring Code of Practice

The "MANAGING RISKS IN STEVEDORING |Code of Practice" (NSCOP) deals with work cages. In container terminals we agree that Quay Cranes (Portainers) are well equipped to utilise a workcage. Quay cranes comply with all crane regulations and are not in question in this instance.
Ship cranes however do not comply with NSCOP or the various regulations and guidance from State regulators.

Why are we using work cages?

It seems that the main reason we are using work cages in bulk and general stevedoring operations is to work around what is a breach of the Federal Marine Orders in the first place. Poor stows causing inadequate access are the excuse but that is not a good enough reason to resort to putting our lives at risk in work cages on ship's cranes. Access is dealt with in Marine Orders 32.
MO 32 Schedule 7 deal with access to various types of vessels but confusingly references "old" Marine Orders which are still applicable depending on the build year of the vessel. Regardless of the MO version safe access is still clearly required.
Too often cargo accesses are blocked by stows. This in itself breaches Marine Orders. A work cage is not the fix to this but an engineering solution to gain safe hold access is required. This may require shipwrights to install staging or other solutions for workers down below to gain access.

Ship Cranes are Dangerous

No one should have to risk their life on a gamble that a ships crane will not fail. It happens too often.
The picture to the right above is of a recent grab which had fallen into the hold after a free fall. Note the grab, hook and block had all fallen. The picture middle right is of a ship crane that let go with a load landing into the ships hold in Geelong. The picture to the right below is a ships crane failure bringing down load block and spreaders in Port Kembla. On both these incidents with a work cage attached this would have resulted in an inevitable fatality. These are all fairly recent failures across three ports and different companies.


NSCOP says that a crane lifting a work cage should "be equipped with a secondary back-up system to prevent the load from falling if the primary lifting device fails".
It also states the crane should "have levers and foot pedals fitted with a constant pressure system that stops the crane’s motions when the operator removes pressure from the controls".
No ship crane has any secondary backup system to prevent falls. Dropping cargo is bad enough but we cannot accept workers being placed in this position of unacceptable risk in a work cage on these general cargo ship cranes.
The MUA position is that ship cranes equipped with work cages in bulk and general operations are not to be used for the access and egress of wharfies into, out of or onto vessels except in an emergency situation.
Members are directed to not comply with any order to do so from employers as it is an unacceptable risk to life and limb.



Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney