Dock areas rank amongst the potentially most hazardous areas that customs staff have to work in. As well as the obvious hazards associated with working near water, dock areas invariably contain many other things which could cause harm, including:
- moving vehicles and vessels;
- overhead cranes and container-lifting machinery;
- hazardous substances;
- heavy machinery;
- slippery surfaces;
- tripping hazards (e.g. mooring ropes, pallets, etc.);
- people (tourists, etc.).
1. Transport Hazards
Transport in docks and freight areas can pose various hazards. Although many of the standard rules of the road apply, and there will be specific and clearly marked routes for vehicles, there are additional risks to those on the open road. This section explains some of the more common types of vehicle you might encounter, the risks they pose and how to avoid getting hurt.
If you are driving in a dock area, don’t forget that the normal rules of the road still apply but that there will be other hazards as well. Do not treat docks as an unrestricted area in which you can drive as you please. Park your vehicle away from the water’s edge if possible.
1.2 What types of vehicle might I encounter?
You will find a wide range of vehicles in docks and freight areas, ranging from fork-lift trucks and electric wheelbarrows to cars and heavy goods vehicles or mobile cranes and straddle carriers. Many sites are also connected to the rail network, for passenger and/or freight traffic.
Dock employees and cargo handlers normally work to tight deadlines, particularly when freight is being unloaded, put in storage or delivered. Keep an eye out for fast-moving vehicles at such times. The best way to avoid getting hurt by vehicles is to stay well away from them. The safe routes for pedestrians should be clearly marked. If you need to work in a restricted area, always tell the site operator that you are doing so. The operator will then warn all its drivers that you are there. Don’t forget to tell them when you have finished so that they can resume working normally.
1.3 What are the risks?
Mobile cranes and lifts:
Operators often have limited visibility from their cabins and might not be able to keep a close look-out for pedestrians. Indoors, such as in transit sheds, there may be an added risk from diesel or petrol fumes. Always tell the driver’s supervisor that you are there. He can usually contact the driver by radio.
Straddle cranes and container stacks:
Straddle cranes may be operated remotely or even by computer. In areas where containers are stacked, visibility between the stacks is sometimes seriously reduced or nil. Do not enter a container stacking area until all operations have ceased.
These include fork-lift trucks, electric wheelbarrows and pedestrian-operated vehicles. They are particularly hazardous because they are:
- almost silent;
- capable of quite high speeds;
- often unable to offer the driver a full field of view.
They are particularly dangerous:
You must keep well clear when the fork-lift is operating, and not rely on the driver to observe you.
- when used indoors where goods are stacked in rows, because the driver’s view is even more restricted;
- when working in narrow storage areas where a miscalculated manoeuvre may dislodge other goods or the entire storage rack;
- when more than one is working in the same area. Warning sounds such as reversing indicators may be confused.
Working near railways can be particularly hazardous. Trains will probably not be travelling at high speeds in dock areas, but they still require much more distance than a road vehicle before they come to a complete halt. Electricity, either from overhead power lines or conductor rails, can add to the hazards.
There may be other vehicles on the move, such as private cars, coaches and lorries. They must keep to the designated routes. Lorries or tugs used to move containers round the port may move or change direction suddenly.
1.4 What can be done to reduce the risks?
Always wear high-visibility clothing and try to work in pairs where possible.
Remember: it is your responsibility to keep away from vehicles on docksides. Pedestrians do not have right of way.
If you are on foot, stick to the designated safe walkways at all times. Keep well away from large vehicles such as mobile cranes and straddle carriers. The driver might not be able to see you.
Only enter any restricted zones with the operator’s consent.
It is safer to avoid all areas where vehicles may be on the move, particularly larger vehicles where the driver’s view might be restricted or the vehicle could take a while to stop. If you have to work in these areas, watch out for the flashing yellow beacons which tell you when a vehicle is moving, and always face oncoming traffic.
2. Examining Vehicles
2.1 General advice
The following points apply to examining all types of vehicles:
- All tools and equipment you use for work on vehicles must be suitable for the use to which you are going to put them. Equipment should be manufactured to ISO/EN standards, particularly if it is likely to be used in flammable or explosive areas.
- You should never work alone.
- You must remove all jewellery, rings, necklaces, etc.
- Always make sure that the driver/operator of the vehicle knows what you are doing, so there is no risk of it being moved:
- secure the keys;
- place a notice on the steering wheel;
- make sure the parking brake is on;
- chock the wheels.
- If necessary, disconnect electrical systems (this should be done by an expert).
- Exercise caution near airbag systems if fitted.
- Use appropriate PPE equipment, including:
- hand protection;
- head protection;
- other protection.
- Never work under unsupported parts of the vehicle and, if a fork-lift is being used inside the vehicle, make sure that the vehicle can take the extra weight.
- Make sure that all areas are well ventilated and that any fumigation has been cleared. (A certificate should be available if the vehicle has been fumigated and then ventilated.)
- Use gas monitoring equipment if there is any doubt.
- Find out the nature of the goods being carried to evaluate any risk.
2.2 Additional points for road and rail tankers
- If you are examining the top of high-sided vehicles or tankers, always use an appropriate gantry or safe means of access — do not use portable or insecure ladders (see working at heights).
- Only climb onto vehicles if you have been trained to do so — and if adequate measures are in place in case of a fall (e.g. fall arrest harnesses). The top might be slippery.
- Look out above you — you might be working close to overhead power lines or to the roof if inside an examination shed.
- Tankers might have been loaded or unloaded under pressure, in which case residual pressure could still be present. Do not attempt to remove inspection hatches until you know that the pressure has been released — it is better to ask the driver to remove them in any case.
- Some goods which are normally solid are transported in a liquid state by raising the temperature. This creates a risk of scalds or burns.
3. Examining freight and containers
General freight examination, particularly in container terminals and depots, poses a wide range of hazards, some of which are covered elsewhere in this section.
This section contains more specific guidance on some of the hazards.
3.2 What hazards should I be aware of?
You should always examine freight in a secure, designated inspection area — not in stacking or operational areas where you could be at risk from moving vehicles. Work in pairs if possible.
3.3 External examination of containers
- If you need to examine underneath a container, it should be placed on a solid support such as a skeletal trailer — this must be connected to a tractor unit, though, to prevent it being bumped by another vehicle.
- On no account examine containers while they are on lifting equipment such as fork-lift trucks or straddle carriers.
- The tops of containers should be examined using a gantry or, if none is available, the built-in ladders and catwalks or a separate stairway (see the section on working at heights).
- Portable ladders should not be used.
- Take care — the tops of containers might be slippery.
3.4 Opening and internal examination of containers and freight-carrying vehicles
- Read any labels on the goods inside — they could be hazardous in their own right.
- Always wear protective clothing such as gloves and use barrier creams.
- Do not attempt to open containers yourself except in an emergency. As well as the risks from objects falling out of badly packed consignments, dangerous fumigants might still be present. Keep well away.
- They must be unloaded and reloaded by trained and experienced dock employees.
- Remember: no-one must be allowed to take risks with their safety in order to carry out a successful job.
- Bear in mind that there could be objects on top of containers, such as blocks of wood holding tarpaulins in place or, in winter, heavy sheets of ice.
- Always make sure it’s safe to enter — ask if the container has been ventilated to remove any dangerous fumes. A certificate showing that it is free from harmful gases should be available.
- If you start to feel ill, leave the area immediately.
- Take extra care with refrigerated containers. If they have been separated from the vehicle, they may have liquid nitrogen pumped into them to keep the temperature low.
- Do not enter containers or inspect refrigeration units until you are sure it is safe to do so and you know that the power has been isolated. Make sure a colleague knows you are in there.
- Do not tamper with electrical connections. You might accidentally affect the temperature inside.
- Hanging garments inside plastic covers/bags may seem harmless but can be very dangerous if they fall on top of you - you can be suffocated.
- If you need to move the contents, mind your back! Observe the rules for safe lifting. You should expect the dock employees to move the goods, except in an emergency.
3.5 What else should I be aware of?
Site operators will have their own safety rules, including arrangements in the event of an emergency (i.e. fire and first aid). You must make sure you know what these arrangements are and follow them.
- Straddle carriers, which are used for lifting containers, are particularly dangerous. They move fairly quietly and at high speeds, and the drivers have a very restricted view. You must keep well away from them. Bear in mind where you are walking as well.
- You should not walk through container or freight stacks unless absolutely necessary, and only with the prior approval of the operator.
- Do not take motor vehicles into operational areas in terminals without the operator’s permission. The documentation travelling with the container or vehicle should give you information on the goods inside. If not, there should always be clear markings on the container itself.
4. What other hazards might I encounter?
There are many things which can trip you up, for example:
- dunnage, steel banding, etc.;
- pallets and other packaging — whole or broken;
- boxes and crates;
- mooring ropes, bollards and other fixtures.
Be observant, watch out for tripping hazards.
- Where possible clear the work area of items likely to trip you up before commencing work.
- Pay particular attention to ropes and mooring lines close to the edge of the quay.
These can include metal areas such as:
Beware also of spilt cargo, including:
- gangways and walkways; or
- man-hole covers.
- damaged fruit, fish, etc.
Take extra care when crossing slippery surfaces. These can include metal areas such as:
- Appropriate footwear will reduce the risk of slipping.
- Where possible a suitable sorbent should be used on spills immediately.
- When practical they should be cleaned up before work proceeds.
Confined spaces are usually found on board ships, but may also be found in docks:
These can pose a wide range of hazards, including:
- storage areas and access routes to silos etc;
- engine and machinery rooms on gantry cranes or other cargo handling equipment such as conveyors;
- sealed containers.
Never enter any confined spaces without the appropriate training and equipment.
- A risk assessment should always be carried out and permission sought from the person in charge before you enter any confined space.
- An oxygen meter and or gas monitoring equipment should be used.
- Breathing apparatus or emergency life support equipment may be required if the space cannot be ventilated thoroughly.
Commercial freezer storage may be maintained at a temperature below -22 °C.
- Sudden exposure may cause shock.
- Prolonged exposure can lead to frost-bite.
A safe working plan should be in place. Remember also:
- always notify someone when you enter — to make sure you do not get locked inside;
- use appropriate PPE;
- obey hygiene and safety rules.
Pressurised containers, including beer kegs, etc., could explode if opened incorrectly.
- Accidental or incorrect handling of pressurised valves can lead to permanent injury, particularly to the face or hearing.
Never attempt to open a pressurised container unless you have the appropriate tools and training.
Use an expert contractor if necessary.
|Working close to railway lines:
Additional hazards exist in rail yards or close to railway lines.
- Trains may commence moving with no warning and, if you are some distance from the locomotive, with little noise.
- Even slow-moving trains take some distance to stop.
- In shunting yards individual wagons may be rolled into position without an engine.
- Overhead power lines are particularly dangerous as they carry very high voltages (25 000 V or more).
- Always inform railway officials that you are there and do not start work until they assure you it is safe to do so.
- Always wear high-visibility clothing.
- Use only designated points to cross the lines.
- In some areas power is supplied by a high-voltage conductor rail. You must avoid these and any water or objects lying near them.
- Step over the lines and do not walk between them.
- Go round any stationary wagons and do not walk between them.
- The whole system should be regarded as ‘live’ until a railway official tells you that the power has been shut off.
- Always keep at least three metres away from overhead power equipment (including any tools you are using, particularly long rods or other inspection tools).
- If anything is on or dangling from the lines (such as icicles, wires, ropes, etc.) keep away and report it immediately to a railway official.
- Never work above overhead line equipment. The wagon should be removed to a safe area or the power shut off before work commences.