Lifting operations

Loading and unloading at ports and docks involves the use of a wide range of lifting equipment. This may include gantry cranes, slewing cranes, forklift trucks or other similar machinery. Poorly planned lifting operations can lead to significant risks to people working in the area.

Typical hazards from lifting equipment

Accidents have occurred due to:

  • failure of lifting equipment;
  • falling loads; and
  • workers being crushed by a moving load or lifting equipment.

Cranes used in port and dock operations

Following a number of failures of lifting equipment at ports, you should ensure that there are robust, proactive planned maintenance regimes in place for cranes, including an assessment of design life, post-supply structural modifications and actual use patterns.

Safety critical parts of the crane should be identified and have maintenance and testing regimes in place to monitor such parts, in line with suggested testing and maintenance intervals.

Dutyholders should consider 'foreseeable misuse', such as overloading or use in high winds. This should include consideration of dynamic and static overloading that may occur from the following and how to reduce and mitigate its effects:

  • snagging where a container gets caught up during movement and creates significant momentary forces in ropes and parts of structure
  • trying to lift the ship where a container has not been released from those beneath it but the crane driver believes that it has and the crane attempts to lift, creating significant forces for a short time
  • jammed containers or twistlocks where a container is still partially connected to those beneath it but the crane driver believes that it has been freed and the crane attempts to lift, creating significant forces for a short time
  • twin lifting situations where the originally specified safe working load (SWL) is exceeded, reducing the factor of safety

You should also consider the role, scope, time and access afforded to companies carrying out thorough examinations of cranes, particularly with regard to how schemes are determined and how it can be ensured that necessary safety critical parts are included in such schemes. You should consider how to proceed where conflicting expert advice is received and keep records of such conflicts.

A British Standard has recently been published on this issue: BS 7121-2-9:2013 Code of practice for the safe use of cranes. Inspection, maintenance and thorough examination. Cargo handling and container cranes.


  • Does LOLER apply to to Ships' lifting equipment? (Link to FAQ)

Which laws apply?

Further information

Port Skills and Safety website for guidance on:

  • SIP002 Guidance on General Cargo
  • SIP003 Guidance on Container Handling

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Updated 2023-04-04