Fast food employee struck on the head by falling boxes

A reminder about the health and safety risks of stacking boxes in cold rooms.



A young employee of a fast food restaurant was struck on the head by falling boxes while restocking a cold room. They suffered a concussion and needed medical treatment. The boxes of frozen fries and patties weighed up to 16 kg each and were stacked about 2 m high.

Safety issues

Restocking boxes in cold rooms can lead to a risk of injury. Without the appropriate controls in place, there's a risk of:

  • hazardous manual handling, which can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
  • being struck or crushed by falling boxes

Handling boxes in cold rooms can become hazardous manual handling as employees are:

  • using repeated and high force
  • putting their body in awkward postures
  • working with boxes stacked above shoulder height
  • working with boxes that are hard to grip
  • working in cold temperatures, which can restrict mobility and grip

Handling boxes in cold rooms may result in being struck or crushed by falling boxes, particularly if employees are:

  • working with boxes stacked above shoulder height
  • working with boxes sticking out of shelves

Young employees (aged 15-24) are more vulnerable to injuries because they're usually:

  • less experienced in their role
  • less aware of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to health and safety

Recommended ways to control risks

The following tips can help employers control risks associated with restocking cold rooms. They are in no particular order.

  • Place smaller orders to avoid overstocking cold rooms. This will also lessen the amount of manual handling needed per delivery.
  • Regularly check shelves to make sure they're sound and stable.
  • Work with suppliers to design boxes that are easier to handle. For example, boxes with cut-out handles.
  • Make sure the boxes can fit on shelves without sticking out.
  • Put frequently used boxes somewhere easy to access. Use raised platforms or shelves to make it easier to access boxes.
  • Put heavier boxes at a height that is easy to access. Employees shouldn't need to reach up or crouch down to access a box.
  • If possible, add another cold room to reduce the amount of stock in one room.
  • Talk to suppliers to see if delivery drivers can help store away boxes using mechanical aids. This will mean less double handling of boxes.
  • Have clear pathways in cold rooms.
  • Use mechanical aids like trolleys when restocking shelves.
  • Provide protective gear, such as thermal gloves, to employees who go into cold rooms.

Legal duties

Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. These include:

  • Providing and keeping a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.
  • Providing and maintaining plant and systems of work that are safe and without risk to health.
  • Providing employees with information, instruction, training and supervision. Employers must meet a standard when fulfilling this duty. They must provide what is necessary for employees to work safely.
  • Ensuring people who are not employees are not exposed to risks from the employer's conduct.
  • Consulting with employees and HSRs to ensure all aspects of risk are considered.

Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017. These include:

  • Identifying any hazardous manual handling an employee has done or will do.
  • Eliminating any risk of MSDs associated with hazardous manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk of MSDs, reducing the risk so far as is reasonably practicable by:
    • altering the workplace layout, environment or systems of work
    • changing the things used in the hazardous manual handling
    • using mechanical aids
    • combining any of the above risk control measures

Related information