Two years since the introduction of VGM regulations, the industry appears to have achieved compliance but, “the accuracy of recorded weights still needs attention.” According to Praful Waghela, Global Product Manager VGM Services at APM Terminals, an additional validation step prior to final loading could help.
Since July 2016, the verification of a container’s weight (Verified Gross Mass, or VGM) has been a requirement under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).
While most of APM Terminals’ facilities are equipped with calibrated and certified facilities to record and transmit accurate VGM to shipping lines, many containers weighed at factories or on the way to terminals fail to comply with local regulations and tolerance levels. “These inaccurate VGMs can lead to serious safety issues if not corrected early in the supply chain,” says Praful Waghela.
Random VGM checks
APM Terminals carries out random checks to confirm the VGMs supplied by a third party are within an acceptable tolerance level and corrects them where necessary. However, this means that some containers with inaccurate weights may slip through. “Being unable to rely 100% on the VGM supplied, means that the regulation hasn’t yet achieved is goal,” states Waghela.
As part of its continuous improvement process for safety, the company is continually looking to identify areas of risk. In some scenarios identified by APM Terminals inaccurate VGMs have increased risk. “Operators of, for example, deck cranes may be tempted to trust the VGM and override the crane’s overweight load alarm,” explains Waghela. APM Terminals has since made technical and procedural changes for specific crane types. These cranes now automatically shut down pending further investigation if weight limits are exceeded.
As this scenario demonstrates, many of the issues related to inaccurate VGMs outline mindset behaviour. To tackle the mindset aspect, APM Terminals has certified trainers who evaluate local crane operators’ skill levels and conduct bi-annual emergency drills for the vessel operations team.
Over 135 million containers each year are estimated to enter the global supply chain and, even if a small proportion of these have inaccurate weight estimates, it poses a significant safety risk.
“It is crucial that, all stakeholders across the supply chain are engaged to ensure safe operations and avoid any incidents,” explains Waghela, whose ideal scenario to guarantee 100% accuracy, would be to see all containers weighed using a terminal’s calibrated and certified weighing facilities. “We all have a responsibility to take VGM seriously and have accurate container weight details, to ensure our employees get home safe every day.”