Professional Packing is a Crucial Skill Set: Let’s Encourage It

  • Date: 29/05/2015

Specialist freight insurer, TT Club is on a mission to heighten awareness of the dangerous consequences of improperly packed containers and other unit loads.  In his article Peregrine Storrs-Fox, TT Club’s Risk Management Director examines the issues and argues the case for greater attention to training warehousemen and others involved in packing such units.

Late last year the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee (IMO MSC) finalised work on two measures that are significant for all those involved in the unit load industry.

It is certainly welcomed that the amendment to SOLAS (the Convention for Safety of Life at Sea) concerning verification of gross mass for container has now been adopted and will become mandatory in July 2016. The implications of this relatively modest change – in essence reiterating the shippers’ responsibility to declare gross mass accurately and clarifying the means by which it can be done – reverberate through the international transport community. It will be important to develop consistency across the globe as to acceptable ways, and common standards, to confirm calibration and certification for both weighing the packed container (‘Method 1’) and ensuring the correct calculation of the sum of all constituent parts of a packed unit (‘Method 2’).

As often, the ‘devil is in the detail’ of implementation. Much work will be required by the relevant governmental authorities worldwide to deliver even enforcement. Perhaps more importantly, those contracting to carry or handle container cargo need urgently to identify how each will develop compliance. This will be a mixture of procedural clarification, system enhancement and integration, and physical infrastructure. In the current regulatory climate, we would suggest that the industry itself will be called upon to police this safety initiative.

The second move announced at the same IMO meeting was the approval by the three UN sponsors (ILO/IMO/UNECE*) of the CTU Code of Practice for Packing Cargo Transport Units (CTU’s, including trailers, swap bodies and railcars as well as containers).  This approval means the Code is now immediately applicable globally as a non-mandatory Code of Practice. The development is to be welcomed for the reality is that accurate weighing of containerised cargo is only a small part of safety in the supply chain. 

The way in which cargo is packed and secured in containers is arguably far more significant leading to loads shifting and cargo spillages.  Incident investigations into cargo claims received by TT Club frequently identify poor load distribution, improperly packed cargo and inadequate blocking, bracing and securing, including inappropriate use of dunnage.  Further evidence of the potential danger of unsafe packing and securing was provided by a survey on behalf of the ILO, as the prelude to developing the Code.  This survey confirmed that it is not weight per se, but inappropriately packed and secured cargo that is the major cause of such incidents. 

While certain jurisdictions may implement the code into national legislation – which is one of the benefits of a code – the entire freight industry must recognise that this detailed guidance may now be used in any litigation as demonstrating good industry practice. The TT Club cannot stress enough that all parties need to become familiar with the contents and develop ways to implement and encourage compliance with the CTU Code.  Those loading cargo units range widely in sector, geography and certainly have variable knowledge and skills with regarding best practice for packing.  Personnel working for shippers, forwarders and carriers may be involved and sub-contractors are often employed.  It is therefore crucial that an understanding of the consequences of bad packing are disseminated as widely as possible. 

TT Club’s own claims experience shows that 65% of incidents involving loss or damage to cargo are thought to be caused by poor or improper packing and securing.  This persistent statistic is echoed by the more granular figures from the ocean carriers’ Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS), where some 41% of incidents investigated were found to have been caused by poorly or incorrectly packed containers.
We have identified a variety of pertinent issues.  For example, often those involved in packing CTUs struggle to get a heavy item in and then believe that it could never move within the unit during transit.  Even where they consider it might move, they believe ‘surely that 25 mm square batten nailed to the floor will stop it’. Additionally, many also believe that placing the heavy load near the door will make it easier to get it out again, without thinking of the consequences of such weight distribution within the trailer or railcar.
There is inadequate awareness of the dynamic forces imposed on cargo during transit. In an attempt to make the nature of these forces more understandable, a domestic washing machine goes through about 6,000 movements in a typical wash cycle; in comparison a trans-Atlantic voyage on a container ship may put cargo through some 160,000 similar movements. In that context, it can be seen that ensuring cargo is properly secured is vital to its delivery in a safe and sound condition.
There is also an element of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.  Once those who packed the container at origin close the doors, they are generally relinquished of all responsibility.  The modern container passes through so many handling processes on its subsequent journey that it can be difficult to pinpoint liability for an incident even where poor packing is suspected. The consequences, however, are vast in terms of injury and loss of life as well as cargo damage and damage to other property.
The TT Club is not alone in promoting the need for ‘best practice’ guidelines for cargo packing procedures.  For many years SOLAS (International convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) and the IMDG Code (International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code) have referenced the IMO/ILO/UN ECE ‘Guidelines for Packing Cargo Transport Units’ (1997) to assist those involved in packing containers and other transport units.
However, the same ILO survey found that only 15% of packers use the guidelines. Indeed, the majority of respondents were even unaware of the existence of the CTU Packing Guidelines. Subsequently the ILO’s Global Dialogue Forum concluded that the 1997 guidelines should be updated and revised, and importantly formulated as a non-mandatory – but enforceable – Code of Practice.  This step has now been achieved.
So plenty of good work is being done but communication still remains the challenge.  As the ILO’s research found packing guidelines are not generally reaching those who are actually packing CTUs and therefore recommended that its replacement should be readily available in a format that can be used by packers across the globe. Following the steer from the UN bodies, the new draft CTU Code is deliberately structured in a user-friendly fashion and will be freely available on the web for ease of dissemination**. The substantial investment at intergovernmental level over the last three years, drawing together this wealth of expertise to develop a CTU Code, will only be worthwhile if effective global dissemination and use of the Code is achieved.
It is clear that higher levels of training to maintain and improve the expertise of those employed by shippers, consolidators, warehouses and depots to pack containers is now an imperative.  This is why TT Club has resourced the expert e-learning course designer Exis Technologies to develop the CTUpack e-learning™ course.

The course is an online training tool for those involved in the loading and unloading of containers and other cargo transport units.  The objective is to focus industry attention on the significant and dangerous implications of bad packing and to provide guidance consistent with current good practice.
The foundation module of the course is aligned with IMO/ILO/UN ECE guidelines.  The course as a whole is comprised of modules dedicated to a variety of topics across the cargo and transport spectrum.  These modules cover areas such as forces and stresses, and how these need careful consideration when placing and securing cargo in a unit.

TT Club’s claims history is strewn with reports of incidents such as truck, train and lift truck overturns due to poorly secured cargo contents, eccentrically loaded or overweight containers.  Training is clearly the number one loss prevention measure and, if adopted as a core feature of an operator’s culture, can greatly reduce the number of claims and perhaps avoid injuries and fatalities. 

* International Labour Organization/International Maritime Organization/United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Through Transport Mutual Insurance Association Limited and TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited, trading as the TT Club. TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited, registered in the UK (Company number: 02657093) is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority. In Hong Kong, TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is authorised and regulated by the Hong Kong Insurance Authority, in Singapore by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and in Australia by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. In the United States, TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is approved as a surplus lines insurer in all states and is accessible through properly licensed surplus lines brokers. The registered offices are: 90 Fenchurch Street, London, EC3M 4ST.

Through Transport Mutual Insurance Association Limited, registered in Bermuda (Company number: 1750) is authorised and regulated in Bermuda by the Bermuda Monetary Authority and is authorised in the UK by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority.

The UK VAT Identification number for Through Transport Mutual Insurance Association Limited is: GB 564 5244 35 and for TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is: GB 564 3375 30. The Italian VAT Identification number for TT Club Mutual Ltd is: 03627210101.