Employees were exposed to the hazard of being struck by falling cargo (bundles of lumber secured with oak dunnage) that had been improperly secured in a ship's hold.


Laborers load bundles of lumber into the hold of a ship.

Activity at time of incident:

Laborers were positioning bundles that were stacked four high along the bulkheads of the bow of the ship. The top 2 bundles were resting on another set of bundles but were not flush with each other. Dunnage was used to wedge the bundles against the bulkhead. A laborer released all the eyes of the slings from the spreader bar instead of just one on each end of the bar, causing the slings to fall behind the stack of bundles and the bulkhead. When he attempted to retrieve the slings so that they could be re-hooked to reposition the bundles, one of the pieces of dunnage supporting the bundles cracked, causing the bundles to shift and strike the employee.

Incident Description


Longshoremen are loading bundles of lumber into a ship's hold. Each bundle is about 2 feet high, 3.5 feet wide, and 24 feet long, and weighs approximately one ton. The ship's crane is rigged with a spreader bar and two synthetic web slings in a basket hitch configuration to support the bundles of lumber. The bundles are wrapped with three ½ inch bands to keep the lumber from slipping out of the slings. The crane operator lifts two bundles at a time from the dock (stacked one on top of another lengthwise) and lands them in the ship's hold, with assistance from the gang in the hold. The gang, a skilled laborer (the gang leader) and three others, guide the bundles into place and secure them in the ship's bulkhead with dunnage. The laborers then free the crane of the load by unhooking one eye of each sling from the spreader bar.


At the time of the incident, the crane operator had just landed two bundles into the hold, placing them on top of another stack. The top two bundles were not aligned completely with the bottom ones, and the gang used dunnage to wedge them against the ship's bulkhead. After securing the bundles, one of the laborers unhooked all of the eyes from the two slings connected to the spreader bar, causing both slings to fall into a space between the stacks of bundled lumber and the ship's bulkhead. The gang leader directed the laborer to go around and under the stack of bundles to the space between the bundles and the bulkhead to retrieve the slings. At the same time, one of the pieces of oak dunnage securing the top two bundles broke, causing the bundles to shift and fall. The laborer was struck by the falling lumber. It did not crush him but pinned him in a crouched position where he suffocated.

Relevant Factors:

The victim was inexperienced. He unhooked all eyes from the slings connected to the spreader bar rather than unhooking just one eye from each sling. The gang leader directed the laborer to go around the stack and reach under them to retrieve the slings, placing him in an unsafe position.

Earlier in the shift, some of the pine dunnage used to support the bundled lumber had broken so stronger oak dunnage was being supplied to the hold crew.

Most of the gang in the hold at the time of incident lacked experience. The company relied on the gang leader to direct the operation. The supervisor was not near the hold when the accident occurred though he periodically monitored the operation. Temporary employees received on-the-job training from skilled employees in how to land, handle, and secure the lumber.

The ship's gear and spreader bar were appropriately certified at the time of the incident. There were no problems with the slings nor did the banding break on the bundles of lumber.

Applicable Standards and Control Measures

  • 29 CFR 1918.83(a): Stowed cargo; tiering and breaking down. " When necessary to protect personnel working in a hold, the employer shall secure or block stowed cargo that is likely to shift or roll."

This hazard could have been prevented if the employer had ensured that the bundles of lumber were adequately secured in the hold and had provided sufficient dunnage to support the cargo in the event that a piece of dunnage breaks. Additionally, the hazard could have been prevented by ensuring that employees were adequately trained in hazard recognition and the work practices required to safely perform their jobs. For example, pre-job meetings could have been held to discuss the safe work practices required for a particular loading operation, including proper rigging, positioning, and securing cargo.

Other Relevant Standards and/or Control Measures

Experienced supervisors, trained in accident prevention in accordance with 1918.98(b)(1), should oversee operations in the hold, recognize unsafe acts or conditions, and verify that the laborers followed safe work practices. For example, if an employee will be exposed to a crushing hazard, provide additional support or restraint for stowed material in those areas, such as, adding additional dunnage.