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New Guidance on Unpacking Shipping Containers

By MarEx 2016-03-09 12:11:55

A safety authority in Australia has investigated 21 incidents involving workers being injured while unpacking shipping containers over the last five years. Three of these workers were killed.

Now, Safe Work Australia has developed a series of information sheets which provide practical guidance on how to manage health and safety risks associated with unpacking shipping containers, including exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Hazards associated with unpacking containers include:
•    falls from height
•    being hit by falling objects
•    hazardous chemicals
•    being hit by mobile plant
•    environmental conditions e.g. heat or cold
•    hazardous manual tasks e.g. repetitive strain injuries, and
•    slips, trips and falls.

Containers can have hazardous chemical residues in the air and on surfaces. Airborne hazardous chemicals are a significant risk to workers’ health and safety.

Some hazardous chemicals like methyl bromide are also suspected of causing genetic defects, while others are known or suspected carcinogens.

The most common types of hazardous chemical residues in containers are:
•    fumigants e.g. methyl bromide and phosphine —these are used to control pests, for example insects and rodents, and
•    solvents e.g. formaldehyde—these can be released from transported goods (off-gassing).

Venting can be used to reduce the concentration of airborne contaminants in a container to safe levels before workers enter and start unpacking. Venting procedures may include:
•    ensuring containers are located in an open area with good natural ventilation and downwind from other activities
 * using mechanical ventilation e.g. extraction or blowing for at least 30 minutes to remove hazardous chemicals before entering the container. 

The guidance is available here.