TT Talk - Be careful when opening container doors

Amongst a container's weakest parts are its doors. The exposure to rain, condensation and a salty atmosphere causes the container door hinges to corrode. Such rust is not always visible, because repainting of the door hinge welds can conceal metal fatigue corrosion. Containers also sustain damage during carriage or handling when they collide with other containers or objects. Eventually, when workers open a defective container door, it comes off its hinges and can fall on anybody who is standing nearby.

Moreover, cargo and dunnage in the container can become unstable during the carriage or handling and end up exerting pressure against the container door. When the door is being opened, the cargo comes crushing down onto the worker. In one case, a huge paper reel, which had not been securely fastened, rolled out of the container and injured a stevedore fatally.

Safety requires that containers are regularly inspected and maintained. Workers who de-stuff containers must be properly trained on container handling and fully equipped with personal protective equipment ('PPE') such as a hard hat, high visibility jacket and safety boots. The workers should be aware of the nature and possible hazards of the goods. If the cargo includes chemicals, special equipment such as a breathing apparatus might be necessary. A container door that is jammed or blocked should not be opened with brute force. A worker, who attempted to open a container with a crow bar, suffered serious injuries.

A retaining strap on the outside of the container door prevents the container door from being forced open by cargo that presses against the inside of the door. The retaining strap is fastened around the door latches while the container door is still shut. After that the container door is opened and the retaining strap slowly released and eventually removed. Some workers have used equipment such as fork-lift trucks to brace the container doors, but such makeshift practices are not recommended without a full risk assessment.

Naturally, site instructions and safety procedures must be in place at the location of the container de-stuffing operations. The unloading area must be clearly marked. The surface of the location should be even (or descending slightly from the door end) without any slopes, debris or pot holes, in which case the container doors are less likely to fall open when released and any pressure on the doors from any contents inside will be reduced.

The container doors should only be opened right before de-stuffing commences. If machinery is used, everyone must keep a safe distance. A third party trucker who delivers the container to the unloading site should not be asked to help de-stuff the container, because he is unlikely to be properly trained, equipped or insured. If he has to be present at the unloading site, he is best placed and safest in his driver's cabin. The safety of every worker who opens and de-stuffs containers is markedly increased by established safety procedures and their rigorous enforcement.

Staff Author

TT Club