Employee crushed in shipping container

WorkSafe is issuing a reminder about the dangers associated with unpacking shipping containers, following a recent incident where an employee was crushed by truck body panels.



A production manager recently died after a stack of 3.6-tonne panels fell on him as they were being unloaded from a shipping container. The employee was inside the container at a truck body manufacturer when the panels crushed him against the wall.

Safety issues

There have been a number of serious crushing incidents where toppling slabs, panels or other objects have trapped a person against the floor or wall of a shipping container or other structure. These have resulted in fatalities, amputations and musculoskeletal injuries affecting the trunk, back, shoulders and arms.

The risk of crushing or entrapment when unpacking shipping containers is increased by the following:

  • high or sudden forces as a result of moving loads
  • panels, slabs or objects 'toppling' (falling from vertical), often as a consequence of an object moving more than expected or in an unintended way
  • inappropriate packing of shipping containers
  • incorrect use of plant, such as overloading forklifts and using lifting attachments not specifically designed for the task
  • activities carried out within the drop zone of an object that is not restrained, or where there is potential for restraints to fail
  • mass, speed and force applied is underestimated where an object is moved by a crane or forklift

Recommended ways to control risks

Employers and self-employed persons should:

When inspecting a container

  • ensure the container is sitting level to reduce the likelihood of panels, slabs or other objects not standing vertically
  • before opening any container, check the outside for any damage that may indicate the load has shifted

When unloading

  • before panels, slabs or objects are released from any transport restraints, ensure that no person is in the drop zone at any time
  • ensure that lifting gear to be used with a crane, such as shackles, cables and clamps, is regularly checked by a competent or licensed person in accordance with manufacturer's instructions
  • use a forklift attachment that has a footplate and side grabs in order to prevent crates from falling to one side
  • ensure that a forklift being used has the appropriate load rating for all fitted attachments and is being used as intended
  • ensure that any engineering controls, for example additional load restraints, are introduced from outside the drop zone

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors.

Employers must provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. Employers must also eliminate, or if not reasonably practicable, reduce the risk of objects falling on the operator of powered mobile plant so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employers must provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

Employers must also ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the employer's conduct.

Self-employed persons must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the self-employed person.

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