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:

1. Transport Hazards

1.1 General

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.

Electrically-operated vehicles: These include fork-lift trucks, electric wheelbarrows and pedestrian-operated vehicles. They are particularly hazardous because they are:
They are particularly dangerous:
You must keep well clear when the fork-lift is operating, and not rely on the driver to observe you.

Railways: 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.

Other vehicles. 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:

2.2 Additional points for road and rail tankers

3. Examining freight and containers

3.1 General

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

3.4 Opening and internal examination of containers and freight-carrying vehicles

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.


4. What other hazards might I encounter?

Tripping hazards:

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.
Slippery surfaces:

These can include metal areas such as:
  • gangways and walkways; or
  • man-hole covers.
Beware also of spilt cargo, including:
  • liquids
  • grain;
  • oil;
  • ice;
  • 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:

Confined spaces are usually found on board ships, but may also be found in docks:
  • 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.
These can pose a wide range of hazards, including:

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.
Cold storage:

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:

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.

The guidance contained in this section intended to serve as a general reminder of the risks that are sometimes encountered during the examination and sampling procedure and of the safety equipment that you should use and precautions that you should take.
You must refer to the legislation and the guidance of your national administration for more information.

Version Date Changes
1.0 12.10.2012 First version
1.1 30.01.2020 Update - text modification, changes in paragraph 4