TT Talk - The ILO initiative – improving packing and securing within CTUs

The recently published report from the International Labour Organization (ILO), entitled ‘Safety in the Supply Chain in relation to Packing of Containers’, is an urgent wake-up call to a largely cost-focused and sometimes complacent industry; it should be required reading for anybody connected with the stuffing of containers. The report was put together by Bill Brassington of ETS Consulting. The report highlights that the inherent container custom of inaccurate cargo weights, coupled with a bad stow, is an intermodal accident waiting to happen; on every road, rail, barge, feeder, terminal, ship, 24/7 365 days a year.

The poor practices of an unregulated unit load industry – represented benignly in the form of ubiquitous multi-coloured boxes on our roads and at ports – are exposed by the ILO report, but probably comes as little surprise to insiders. The report argues strongly that ignorant or deliberate misdeclaration should be a particular concern to a modern industry, 'because the victims of accidents attributed to poor practices in packing containers can be the general public, transport workers, or their employers, who have no control over the packing of containers'.

It also bemoans that 'container shipping is the only sector of the industry in which the mass of a cargo is not accurately known', concluding that the intermodal chain is at risk from this absence of effective regulation. The ILO’s Global Dialogue Forum brought together representatives from the government, employers’ organisations and trade unions. The Forum reviewed the report, and examined strategies and policies to help constituents in ILO member States forge a common approach throughout the supply chain for the correct application of the appropriate standards in packing CTUs. This could pave the way for a substantial improvement in supply chain safety and at the end of the Forum it was reported that there was substantial consensus between the social partners. Below is a selection of important findings addressed by the report:

  • Lack of training and knowledge of available standards is a significant reason for poor practices in the packing of containers.
  • Existing standards and guidance are inadequately disseminated, leading to a lack of awareness of this information, not only among workers and their employers, but other stakeholders and authorities, such as police, OSH inspectors, OSH doctors, etc.
  • Misdeclaration and the lack of information on CTU contents and weight are found throughout thesupply chain.
  • Packing and unpacking of different consignments in the same CTU are often inappropriately planned and coordinated.

There is widespread agreement that IMO/ILO/UNECE Guidelines for packing of CTUs are necessary. The three organisations have now been requested to proceed with the revision of the existing guidelines for packing of CTUs. Improvements in the packing of CTUs and safety in the supply chain could be sought through their voluntary application and improved dissemination.

The need for appropriate skills and competencies in all components of the supply chain should be addressed through effective training. However, guidelines on consistent standards of training need to be established in order to ensure that correct training on techniques and practices is implemented. Finally, it was recognised that there is a need to improve the collection and publication of data on accidents related to the improper packing of CTUs.

There is a separate initiative underway in the ILO to update the ‘IMO/ILO/UN ECE Guidelines for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTUs)’ which were last reviewed in 1997. This further enhances safety and will assist in the process of ensuring that cargo is properly loaded and secured within CTUs.

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