The commercial shipping industry is responsible for transporting a vast array of consumer goods from production centers to end-users. Shipping interests around the globe move hundreds of millions of tons each year. As one of the most crucial transportation sectors, the ways in which cargo is handled can lead to success or failure. Cargo handling involves both human and technological factors, and each presents significant risks to shipping interests. Commercial marine insurance is only one part of the shipping sector’s risk management strategy; in this guide, we will explore industry best practices for cargo handling that puts safety and process efficiency first.

Cargo Shipping: An Overview

To put the commercial shipping industry into perspective, it can be valuable to explore some of the statistics behind this transportation behemoth. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) annual report indicates a steady yearly increase in cargo tonnage over the past 40 years. In 2019:

  • 92,295 vessels served the global commercial shipping industry.
  • Nearly 11 billion metric tons deadweight (dwt) were transported.
  • This figure represents a 2.6% increase from 2018.
  • International maritime trade is expected to grow at a rate of 3.5% over the next five years.

UNCTAD divides global shipping into four major categories: Containers, Other Dry Cargo, Main Bulks, and Tanker Trade. Growth in cargo shipping is centered on European and Asian shipping firms, which have experienced staggering increases in both capacity and tonnage shipped over the past two decades.

Protecting Shipping Personnel: A Safety-Oriented Approach

The people who handle cargo are perhaps the most critical part of the global shipping equation. These workers, whether they are shipboard or in warehousing or port facilities, are the lifeblood of the industry. Protecting them from risk, then, is of the utmost importance. As commercial marine insurance claims indicate, worker injuries and deaths are some of the highest across industries.

To better protect both ship workers and the shipping businesses themselves, it is a leading practice to establish safety-oriented workplace cultures. Safety begins with personal protective equipment (PPE), which must be readily available to any workers who need this protection. PPE can include:

  • Safety helmets
  • Harnesses
  • Steel-toed shoes
  • Protective gloves
  • Respirators for working in confined spaces

PPE must always be in good working order; routine inspection of this equipment is a must. All employees must be trained on safety procedures both on and off the shipping vessel, including the proper wear and use of PPE.

Cargo Safety: Protection of Critical Assets

Cargo shipping operations will fail if the cargo itself is damaged or lost in transit. While minor damage can be expected for some consumer goods during worldwide shipping, it is important to minimize these risks. Secure cargo is safe cargo, and must be secured as soon as it is brought onboard. Shifting cargo loads can also create hazards for the vessel and for the personnel entrusted with shipping it, including imbalances that threaten to swamp ships at sea or injuries to workers. While commercial marine insurance policies tend to cover damaged or lost cargo, preventing damage in the first place reduces claims and the expenses associated with cargo issues.

During the loading and loading processes, safe handling practices also serve to secure cargo while protecting workers. Safe handling often includes equipment like lifts, wire slings, cranes, and forklifts. At each step, workers must ensure that cargo is secure to reduce the possibility of an injury, death, or damage to shipped goods.

For cargoes stored in unventilated holds, a unique set of risks presents itself. Personnel entering such spaces may be in jeopardy of injury or illness, particularly if cargo emits toxic gases. Again, personal protective equipment supplements the protections afforded by commercial marine insurance. Respirators and protective outerwear must be used when handling cargo in confined or oxygen-deficient ship spaces.

These practices help to ensure that cargo operations run smoothly, efficiently, and safely. Establishing safety-oriented practices at each operational step of a cargo trip ultimately saves money by protecting cargo, shipboard and dock workers, and the cargo vessels themselves.

About Merrimac Marine Insurance

At Merrimac Marine, we are dedicated to providing insurance for the marine industry to protect your clients’ business and assets. For more information about our products and programs, contact our specialists today at (800) 681-1998.