Employee crushed by stone slabs in shipping container

WorkSafe is issuing a reminder about the dangers associated with unloading objects from shipping containers, following a recent incident where an employee was crushed and killed unloading stone slabs.



A female employee recently died while unloading stone slabs from a shipping container. The employee was inside the shipping container when the stone slabs fell, crushing her against the internal wall of the container.

Safety issues

This year, in Victoria alone, there have been a number of serious crushing incidents where 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 speed, force and extent of movement of objects are commonly underestimated. Once the load begins to fall, there is often no opportunity to escape.

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

  • activities carried out within the 'fall shadow' of an object that is not restrained, or where there is potential for restraints to fail. The 'fall shadow' of a slab is the region swept by a slab during its toppling movement from vertical to when it stops falling (see illustration below)
The ‘fall shadow’ of a slab is the region swept by a slab during its toppling movement from vertical to when it stops falling.
  • people attempting to physically restrain or stop an object while it is falling
  • objects moving more than expected or in an unintended way during handling, which often causes the object to fall
  • inappropriate packing of shipping containers
  • damage or loads shifting in transport
  • incorrect use of plant, such as overloading forklifts and using lifting attachments not specifically designed for the task
  • mass, speed and force applied is underestimated when an object is moved by a crane or forklift

Recommended ways to control risks

Employers and self-employed persons should:

For all activities 

  • ensure work is never done in the fall shadow of an object without suitable controls in place
  • ensure employees never attempt to try to restrain or stop an object while it is falling

When ordering and delivering

  • ensure objects are ordered and delivered that would allow for safe unloading. The shipping configuration and container chosen should allow for a person to stay out of the fall shadow of an object. An example is an open top container allowing objects to be accessed for mechanical lifting from above.

When inspecting the contents of a shipping container

  • ensure the shipping container is sitting on level ground to reduce the likelihood of objects becoming unstable before opening the container
  • check the outside of the container for any damage that may indicate the load has shifted
  • secure the container doors with a safety rope or strap to prevent the doors opening suddenly

When unloading objects from a shipping container

Develop a safe method for opening the container and unloading objects. Safe methods of work could include:

  • ensuring employees do not enter into the fall shadow of the object to facilitate the removal
  • removing crates using an overhead bridge or gantry crane. When this is not possible, frames or crates should be removed with a forklift and then broken down outside of the container, where employees can avoid the fall shadow
  • using a specialised forklift attachment to remove objects (see illustration below)
  • using equipment that minimises the need for a person to be positioned close to the object, such as grabs that automatically or remotely lock and unlock on the object
  • using equipment to brace and secure the object to prevent falling during inspection and handling

Before objects are released from any transport restraints, ensure that:

  • the handling process has been planned and understood by everyone involved
  • that no person is in the fall shadow
  • ensure lifting gear (such as shackles, cables and clamps) are:
    • used in conjunction with a fork lift or crane
    • compatible with any other equipment used
    • have the appropriate rating
    • regularly checked by a competent or licensed person in accordance with manufacturer's instructions

If A- frames are used to store objects

  • ensure the A-frame sloping arms are leaning at an angle of between 4º to 8º. The angle of the base or leg should be 90° to the A-frame. Any packing between objects must not reduce the angle of the object to less than the A-frame angle
  • ensure that any A-Frames designed and used for transport that arrive without engineered load ratings are not used for storage.  Objects should be transferred and stored on systems engineered specifically for storage.

If objects are not stored on A-frames

  • use a forklift attachment designed specifically for the handling of the crate
  • brace any crated slabs that stand vertically, to prevent movement during transport

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.

Further information