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MIT Safety

A safety programme to be emulated

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As far as Carlos Urriola is concerned, every port worker should return safely to his family every day after work. In his opinion, every port manager should have this simple but important objective as a priority.

“One of the worst feelings ever is when there is an accident that involves one of your collaborators,” said Mr. Urriola, vice-president of Manzanillo International Terminal (MIT) and Immediate Past President of the Caribbean Shipping Association. “It is a feeling of failure. As a port manager, one of our duties is to return that worker safe to his family at the end of the shift. The family lend you that worker for a day. You have only accomplished your objective if that worker walks out of the port in the same physical condition as when he walked in,” 

Not surprisingly, MIT has strict safety standards and a Safety Department that aggressively imposes them. Indeed, MIT’s safety programme is worthy of emulation.

Corporate philosophy

MIT’s corporate philosophy on safety is simple but comprehensive: ZERO ACCIDENTS.

The MIT Safety Department handles all issues related to workplace safety standards; compliance with safety codes; safety incident investigations and accident prevention; safety training; advanced first aid support for employees, clients and contractors (‘collaborators’); and oil and hazardous materials (hazmat) spills.

24 hours a day

The 22-strong MIT Safety Team is headed by a safety manager and includes an assistant manager, two lead-shift superintendents, three secretaries and 15 safety technicians. The team is on call 24 hours a day, functioning as an active aid to port operations and activities.

MIT has a strategy of ensuring that all employees learn and accept that safety is everyone’s business and that, with due attention to safety norms, accidents can be avoided. The strategy works. There has not been a fatality at MIT for almost 18 years.

“We knock on wood and keep increasing training, audits and inspections to make our workplace the safest possible,” said Juan Carlos Croston, MIT Marketing Manager and CSA General Council member.

Discussing the operations of the Safety Department, MIT Safety Manager Mauro Martinez said: “We have managed to develop a great team of safety collaborators. Over the years we have hired fire-fighters, ex-police, Red Cross volunteers and local SINAPROC [Sistema Nacional de Proteccion Civil], making the MIT response team the best in the area. It’s easy to promote safety here. Executives are always willing to invest time and money to make sure our employees return home to their families intact. International courses, safety conferences, internal exercises, practices with local fire department, drills and inspection and audits keep us focused on the goal of zero accidents.

“It’s tough for a company this big to have constant training, but we understand it is necessary. All our department managers have to compromise to make people available for training. We also work hand in hand with our contractors, giving them safety induction and expertise training for each area for free. It’s a big investment but it pays off in the longer run.”

Hazmat

Mr Martinez recalled that “in 1995 we had a vessel alongside with a big problem. It had a 20 ft. container with yellow phosphorus that had caught fire. We called local fire-fighters and immediately realised that they did not have the experience or equipment to handle hazmat emergencies. So we decided to create our own hazmat team to keep our employees safe and help our customers if they should have a hazmat cargo spill.”

The MIT Hazmat Team (nicknamed The Ghost Busters) is certified by the California Specialized Training Institute and is fully prepared to handle hazmat mishaps. The team’s capability is well known and MIT has been frequently called to handle hazmat salvage in Colon Free Zone and elsewhere.

Mr. Croston said: “We have the know-ledge, experience and equipment to handle hazmat emergencies. MIT Safety Department is also ISO 9001-2008 certified. This way we ensure our processes are audited each year and so we keep improving and giving our customers a quality service.” 

MIT has an aggressive Safety Action Plan. Employees have to attend safety training meetings at least three times a year as the company relentlessly instils its safety culture. Safety audits and inspections were recently increased by 20%. Random drug and alcohol tests have also increased 20% and employees and contractors are screened at least three times a year.

Safety committee

The MIT Safety Committee is one of the most vital components in the company’s safety programme. The Safety Committee includes all executives and department heads and meets monthly. All matters related to safety are discussed and statistics studied. Accidents are carefully reviewed and corrective measures discussed and implemented as soon as possible so as to prevent a reoccurrence.

Aware

“Our final objective is to modify the way our employees and contractors think about safety and to integrate accident prevention in the day-to-day flow of work,” said Mr. Croston. “However, we have to guard against complacency. We have been fairly successful in keeping our workforce as safe as possible. We need to continue the engagement so that people are always aware and conscious of the need to not cut corners, safety-wise. Failure is hidden around the corner.”