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Opinion: The chain in action at workplaces

How COR and OHS laws apply to loading and unloading incidents


The first half of 2020 has been like no other year. There has been a lot of focus on business adaptation and continuity and Covid-19 risk management, but there is safety concern that may not getting the attention it deserves.

There have been 10 workplace fatalities in the first half of 2020 with a common theme – uncontrolled movement of large, heavy items/equipment.

This was noted in ATN back in February, where three incidents were reported on.

Fast forward to July and there have been a further eight fatalities involving uncontrolled movement of loads or trucks in Victoria and

NSW alone:

• worker crushed by a stack of 3.6-tonne panels during unloading a shipping container

• worker run over at depot by a truck

• driver struck by truck while hitching up a dog trailer

• worker struck by steel beam during unloading of roof trusses

• worker struck by stone slabs during unloading a shipping container

• worker struck by long poles during unloading from a truck

• operator crushed when forklift overturned

• worker crushed between arm of vehicle mounted crane and truck

• worker crushed by ramp while unloading earthmoving equipment from a low loader

Large, heavy, long loads are a normal daily occurrence in many transport yards and experience in how to go about these tasks is passed on from more experienced workers through on-the-job training.

There maybe one or two people who are the ‘goto specialists’ who will be called upon to nut out the most difficult loads. Interestingly, eight of the11 workers killed in these incidents this year have been men over 50.

If these type of loading/unloading activities are carried out in your workplace, it’s time to have acritical look at the systems of work that guide how they are done and the training of the workers whodo them.


It’s common practice for incidents with loading/unloading to be considered as Chain of Responsibility (COR)-related and then the supply chain parties that had influence on the loading looked at.

If the incident occurred while the goods were being transported on a public road, this would be an avenue of investigation. But when the incident occurs post-delivery, at a workplace, it does not come under the jurisdiction of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

It therefore isn’t a COR issue – it’s an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue.

Read Denise Zumpe’s take on Covid-19 responsibilities, here


Under COR obligations, the duties of the consignor, loading manager, loader, operator and driver don’t extend to what happens at the other end.

Once the load has arrived safely at its delivery site, responsibility for safety moves to the employer or person who has management and control of the site.

The focus of COR is purely what happens on the road.

It is important to remember that the scope of the HVNL is heavy vehicles travelling on public roads and the Load Restraint Guide is the performance standard to stop load shift under certain forces –again this is to do with loads in transit.


The OHS Act (in Victoria) and regulations and the applicable work health and safety (WHS) acts and regulations in other Australian jurisdictions (other than WA) provide the legislative framework for work place safety.

The employer or person who has management and control of the workplace has the legal duty to control the risks, so far as is reasonably practicable, associated with the loading/unloading tasks and have safe systems of work, equipment and competent qualified and trained workers to perform the tasks.

If we use an import container as an example – it is delivered to the yard to be unpacked, but upon opening it’s found to be packed in a way that could be unsafe for the unloaders. But it was safely loaded and secured for sea freight and road transport so it’s not a COR issue.

If there is an incident during the unpack, the overseas consignor will not be brought into it. If it is an incident on the road, they may be. Once at the delivery point, the employer and/or person with management and control of the workplace has the responsibility to unpack the goods safely.

The same with a truck for unloading. If it’s loaded and restrained safely for travel, but not safe to be unloaded at the depot, it’s an OHS issue.

It is noted by Queensland WorkCover in its Incident Alert of March 2020 on ‘Crush Incidents When Loading/Unloading’ that there is a lot of guidance for securing loads to prevent them from moving while a truck is driving on the road, but less guidance on controlling the risk of preventing loads moving while loading or unloading.

This is something to be aware of and ensure workers understand this difference and how to perform the tasks safely.


The safety regulators, WorkSafe Victoria, SafeWork NSW and WorkCover Queensland, have all published guidance material on safe systems of work for loading and unloading trucks.

This is now ‘state of knowledge’ and we encourage all businesses who load and unload trucks to follow the advice of the workplace safety regulators in reviewing the safety of these tasks.

Workplace fatalities in some states are subject to industrial manslaughter laws and, interestingly, it is also illegal in NSW to have insurance and indemnity arrangements to cover WHS fines.

For almost two deaths per month to be attributed to one activity is concerning and the industry needs to work together to share solutions and approach the tasks consistently in a safe manner.


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