Crane operator: Most stressful job in container ports

Interviews with crane operators working in container ports.

Ali Anri Aritonang enjoys his job but it is not for everyone as it can be very stressful both mentally and physically.  He is isolated alone in his control cabin, suspended high up at a height of 23 meters, for many hours at a stretch and he has to shoulder heavy safety responsibility.  

Ali Anri Aritonang working in the crane control cabin. Photo credit: Ali Anri Aritonang

It was still eight o’clock in the morning, but Ali had just finished work. Ali works as an operator of a Rubber Tyred Gantry Crane (RTG Crane), with a span of 23.6 meters, straddling six lanes with one lane reserved for container transfers, at one of the busiest container terminals in Indonesia and he had just finished the eight-hour night shift from 11 pm to 7 am.  His job is to load and unload the containers between trucks and the container yard.  

Because human lives are at stake, it is not easy to obtain a crane operator license.  “We need to go through theoretical learning first in the classroom.  We have to pass all subjects before going to practical lessons and these are taught by the Occupational Safety and Health Service Company (PJK3). The PJK3 is closely monitored by the Ministry of Manpower and the whole course is very difficult,” said Ali.

Ali added that as safety is paramount, all crane operators are taught to have a zero-incident mindset and this means knowledge and skills must be acquired thoroughly and applied to the job conscientiously.  

Additionally, Ali said the job requires a nerve of steel to perform as well.  Because of the unique conditions of a container port, he needs to have good stamina, strong mental strength and has to work at a height of 23 meters moving 24 tons containers.  Also, due to the limited visibility, Ali has to have good eyesight and has to constantly scan and be vigilant what is happening at ground level.  And all these existing challenges are compounded during the night shift and this adds to his mental stress as well. 

Views from crane control cabin. Photo credit: Ali Anri Aritonang

Arwinnata is also a crane operator but at a different container port and operating a different type of container crane.  He moves containers between ships and trucks.  He was sent by his company to Singapore to study and went through a six-month training consisting of both theory and practical lessons to get an operator license (SIO). To him, the toughest challenge is working the night shift.  After every such shift, he always feels as if his whole body has experienced an earthquake.

“During a shift, there are usually many ships coming into the port and I will get very busy with only a quick break in between.  It is very rare that there are only a few ships,” he said.

To ensure work safety, Arwinnata said teamwork is important.  He always works with two supervisors, one on board the ship and the other on the shore.  “Everything runs smoothly when there is good teamwork, and everyone must follow each and every safety protocols, especially for the clearance area which at no time should be neglected, for there may be incidents such as someone being hit by a sling or hatch,” he emphasized. 

Prima Container Terminal. Photo credit: Pelindo

Bambang Sabekti, who has decades of management experience working in ports, agreed that only properly trained and licensed crane operators should be hired. He said generally speaking, inexperienced operators tended to have a higher tendency to make mistakes.  However, Bambang stressed that the safety responsibility should not fall on the operator alone, the port management is also obligated.

He said: “The management must ensure crane operators undergo continuous training to keep their skills share and knowledge up to date.  The company is also to carry out periodic maintenance according to schedule, and replace spare parts as needed and recommended by the manufacturer. 

“Importantly too, a supervisor on the ground must check the locking system is engaged, the direction of the crane’s movement is correct and no one is in the restricted area.All stakeholders must play a part in cultivating a safety culture,” he said.

IPC Container Terminal. Photo credit: Pelindo

Top photo credit: Pelindo

Ibnu Wibowo

Ibnu Wibowo

Ibnu Wibowo, Indonesia journalist, is a former political journalist with high dedication and determination to his craft. He is interested in writing about politics and international relations.

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