Guide for unpacking shipping containers

Back to top

1. Introduction

This guide provides you with information on how to manage health and safety risks when unpacking containers transported by land or sea. From the opening of the container doors, through to removing and transporting items to the storage location – the guide covers your obligations under work health and safety legislation.

Key hazards

  • containers placed on sloping or uneven ground
  • inadequate lighting to allow safe unpacking of the container contents
  • loose items due to inadequate securing to prevent movement during transport
  • items not packed for easy unpacking, not on pallets or slip sheets
  • loose items falling from a height
  • items that can come loose during transport forcing the doors open or falling on workers when the door is first opened
  • unsafe systems employed to unpack containers, such as:
    • selecting unsuitable straps, chains or restraints or using them incorrectly
    • incorrectly using plant to unpack the container, for example, using a forklift not designed to tow to drag items out of container
    • overloading plant, and not taking the rated capacities of attachments into consideration
    • having people working in and around the container and being hit by mobile plant used for removing items
    • not providing  information about the items being handled, such as the item’s weight or whether it is hazardous
    • ignoring potential risk of exposure to chemicals used for fumigation of the container
    • conducting manual tasks that require lifting heavy items, bulky items or situations which require the worker to use awkward postures
    • ignoring the risk of slips, trips and falls
    • not being aware of how to manage chemical spillage inside the container.

This guide does not address the loading of containers, related traffic management, handling dangerous goods in containers and packing items into containers. This publication is for all those legally responsible for health and safety when unpacking shipping containers. Those with legal duties include employers, contractors, labour hire agencies, freight forwarders, consignors, customers and employees.

For details of these topics refer to more information chapter of this document.