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ITF reaction over potentially contaminated reefer containers

The ITF is acting to secure the health and safety of port workers and seafarers amid concern over potentially dangerous refrigeration containers still being operational.

Maersk has quarantined some 900 units after three fatalities earlier this year were linked to maintenance work carried out on reefer containers in Vietnam. Although as yet unconfirmed, it’s thought that some reefers may have been topped up with contaminated gas causing them to be potentially explosive under certain conditions.

The ITF has informed dockers, seafarers and road and rail affiliates of the safety concerns and advised them to follow up with their local health and safety authorities. General safety advice includes not connecting the reefer units for recharging and keeping them in isolated zones where there are no people or crossing vehicles.

ITF dockers’ section secretary Frank Leys said: "We are pleased to see that big shipping lines like Maersk have reacted quickly to this situation and we would join our US affiliate, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, in urging any companies or organisations who haven’t already taken steps to alleviate this risk, to follow suit now. Where there are possibly contaminated containers still at large, we are calling on port authorities and shipping companies to issue clear guidance on how they should be handled."
He continued: "The health and safety of workers is paramount and in no instance should commercial or productivity issues be allowed to supersede the welfare of workers."

Seafarers’ section secretary Jon Whitlow added: "We are extremely concerned for the welfare of those workers on ships who may be unaware that a defective container is being carried on board.

"Although we acknowledge that the maritime community is moving fast to provide the necessary information and advice on how to handle the contaminated containers in ports, we hope the same approach and priority is given to adequately inform the on board safety officers in order to protect the integrity of seafarers and ships."

He went on to say: "Whilst of course the explosion of a container ashore is a tragic event, we think that a similar explosion on board a vessel could have potentially catastrophic effects on workers, ships and the environment."
Additionally, inland transport section secretary Mac Urata commented: "This is not just an issue for seafarers and dockers, workers right across the supply chain are potentially at risk. We are looking now for a swift and thorough investigation into how these tragedies came about and information on what happens next to ensure workers’ safety."

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