New Guidance On Unpacking Shipping Containers



Shipping involves various activities. Some of these can be hazardous.  Seamen face dangers even while packing and unpacking shipping containers.  Safety authorities study each activity and identify precautionary measures to avoid incidents.  In our previous issue we saw about the 10 Key Points on Container Weighing.  Here we give you few safety tips on unpacking shipping containers.

Unpacking shipping containers involves significant hazards to workers.  The safety authority in Australia has investigated 21 incidents involving workers being injured while unpacking shipping containers over the past 5 years.  Three workers lost their lives in these incidents.

Presently, lot of information to provide practical guidance to manage health and safety risks associated with unpacking containers, inclusive of exposure to hazardous chemicals has been developed in Australia.

What are the hazards while unpacking containers?

  • Falls from height
  • Hit by falling objects
  • Hazardous chemicals
  • Hit by mobile plant
  • Environmental conditions
  • Hazardous manual tasks- repetitive strain injuries, slips, trips and falls

The containers can have hazardous chemical residues in the air and in surfaces.  Airborne hazardous chemicals are a significant risk to workers health and safety.  Methyl bromide, a hazardous chemical is a threat that can cause genetic defects.  There are many other chemicals known as suspected carcinogens.

The most common types of hazardous chemical residues in containers are;

  1. Fumigants -methyl bromide and phosphine- these are used to control pests and rodents.
  2. Solvents- Formaldehyde- these can be released from transported goods

What are the hazards that can happen?

The consequences of risks associated with unpacking shipping containers include minor sprains, strains, abrasions, fractures and other health problems and in some cases, death.

How can we escape the hazard?

  1. Proper venting to be used to escape from the evil of the concentrated airborne contaminants in a container to safer levels before the workers enter the place where they start the job of unpacking. This venting procedure may include:
    1. Ensuring that the containers are located in an open area with good natural ventilation and downwind from other activities.
    2. Resorting to mechanical ventilation i.e. extracting or blowing for at least 30 minutes to remove the hazardous chemicals before entering the container.
  2. Containers should be located and placed to avoid injuries.
  3. To avoid injuries resulting from being hit by mobile plant like forklifts, side-loaders or cranes you should, so far as is reasonably practicable:
    1. Have clearly defined areas to keep pedestrians separate from mobile plant during the unpacking of containers.
    2. Implement a driver and pedestrian exclusion zone.
  4. Implementing appropriate environmental controls like:
    1. Fans or heaters for cooling or heating„.
    2. Additional lighting.
    3. Adequate supplies of water to prevent dehydration.
    4. Wet weather protection.
  5. Unpacking goods by hand can lead to musculoskeletal injuries caused by repetitive actions or by working with goods above shoulder height or below knee level.  To eliminate this risk forklifts or other mechanical aids should be used.
  6. Workers unpacking containers may be struck by falling goods—particularly if goods have shifted during transport or goods spill from the container when first opened.  To reduce this risk you should develop a safe method for opening the container and unpacking goods.  Procedures could include securing container doors with a short safety rope.
  7. To reduce the risk of falls from ladders, cargo, the top of containers, stairs and ramps you should, so far as is reasonably practicable, unpack the container:„
    1. At ground level.
    2. Using a finger dock or specifically designed mobile platform e.g. a truck loading platform.

Source: Safe Work Australia


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