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How to pack, secure and load containerised cargo

30 March 2022

#Transport, Shipping & Logistics

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How to pack, secure and load containerised cargo

The National Transport Commission's Load Restraint Guide 2018 (Load Restraint Guide) provides basic safety principles to everyone in the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) to ensure they are complying with load restraint laws. 

The following key elements of the Load Restraint Guide are essentially a checklist and those involved in load restraint must tick off each step to ensure that their loads are safe and compliant. We provide a brief commentary on what is required under each of these key elements.

Planning your load

1. Understand your load – the first step is the most important. It is crucial to undertake a risk assessment to ensure relevant risks are identified and steps are taken to mitigate that risk. Without understanding your load from the outset, the appropriate compliance measures will not be in place to satisfy the next nine elements.

2. Choose a suitable vehicle for your load type and size – it is important to check the vehicle’s load carrying capacity. An inappropriate heavy vehicle for the load it is carrying is particularly hazardous to not just employees or contractors but other road users. Further, using an unsuitable heavy vehicle will often result in collateral breaches of mass and dimension requirements as well as load restraint.

3. Use a restraint system that is suitable for your load – not all load restraint methods are equal. Businesses must choose a specific load restraint technique that is most suitable for the load and/or heavy vehicle. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

4. Position your load to maintain vehicle stability, steering and breaking – it is important to assess the “static rollover threshold” (SRT). This is essentially a calculation that measures a load’s stability on a heavy vehicle. The higher the SRT, the better resistance to rollover. There is software on the market to help calculate a vehicle’s SRT.

5. Check your vehicle structures and restraint equipment are in good working condition and strong enough to restrain your load – quality load restraint equipment is built to last, but not built to last forever. It is crucial that everyone in the CoR uses rated equipment strong enough to withstand the forces indicated in the Performance Standards.

Loading (and unloading) the vehicle

6. Make sure your load is stabilised – depending on the load you’re carrying, if it is not appropriately stabilised on the heavy vehicle, it doesn’t matter whether it is within the mass requirements or dimension requirements, it could pose a significant risk even if restrained properly.

7. Make sure you understand and use safe work practices when loading and unloading a vehicle – a good load restraint policy isn’t just concerned with preventing goods from falling off the back of a truck but should also consider the safety of those while loading or unloading goods. There should be a load and unloading plan which, among other things, ensures all those involved are adequately trained and provides for a safe working environment around the heavy vehicle while workers undertake load restraint practices.

8. Make sure you use enough restraint to keep you and others safe restrain your load to prevent unacceptable movement during all expected conditions of operation. It isn’t just those in the CoR you need to be concerned about. For example, if 200 litre drums and gas cylinders aren’t restrained properly, they can roll off and endanger the pedestrians’ safety.

Driving according to the load and driving conditions

9. Allow for changes in vehicle stability, steering and braking when driving a loaded vehicle – understand the effect your load type and its position can have on the vehicle’s stability, steering and braking capacity. For example, external factors such as high wind speeds can also reduce vehicle stability or blow the load off.

10. Check the load and its restraint regularly during your journey – some loads can settle and shift during a journey, causing restraints to loosen. Understand the characteristics of your load and know how often it needs to be checked during a journey.

Load restraint within containers

The Load Restraint Guide provides specific guidance for packing, loading and securing goods in freight containers and on heavy vehicles.

As global supply chains become more complex, it is important for those in the Australian CoR to understand that it is not enough to rely on the foreign suppliers of goods to ensure that the containers are securely loaded so that they arrive ready and safe for our roads.

The Load Restraint Guide specifically addresses restraint within a few types of containers.

1. Intermediate Bulk Containers and Chemical Tanks

Intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) and chemical tanks are reusable industrial containers designed to transport and store bulk liquids. They are pallet mounted, capable of stacking and can be moved by a pallet jack or forklift.

The Load Restraint Guide illustrates a number of examples of how to properly restrain IBCs, including by:

  • blocking IBCs in the forward direction wherever possible to reduce the required number of tie-down lashings by, for example, using crossover straps to block the load
  • placing the IBCs that have low-friction bases on timber or rubber surfaces to improve friction
  • using empty pallets tied down to fill gaps in loads.

Chemical tanks pose unique load restraint issues. The liquids in the tanks can slush around, causing the tank to move and shift on the heavy vehicle. To counteract this, the Load Restraint Guide suggests restraining small tanks using tie-down where lashing angles and tank or skid structure permit adequate restraint and/or if using a tie-down method, blocking in the forward direction and placing rubber or timber between the tank frame and the deck to increase friction.

2. Contained loads

Contained loads include loads transported in containers, tippers, drop-sided vehicles, pantechnicons and curtain-sided vehicles. The Load Restraint Guide sets out a number of ‘do’s and don’ts’ to ensure loads within containers are restrained correctly. For example:

  • do pack loads tightly within the vehicle body and sides to prevent the load from moving sideways or forwards or backwards
  • do not leave gaps unblocked in contained load loads as freight may move during transport and impact the containment body
  • do make sure when loading freight into containers, there is even weight distribution both across the width and preferably along the length of the container
  • do not exceed the manufacturer specified maximum allowable load mass of the container or vehicle. As mentioned above, this will also result in mass breaches on top of loading breaches under the Heavy Vehicle National Law.

3. ISO-type container twist locks

Twist locks are used to connect shipping containers together vertically or are weldable to a base frame or connected to a corner casting. They are an essential part of the shipping container corner casting design. A shipping container twist lock is the component that locks together shipping containers so they can be transported via sea, rail and land.

The Load Restraint Guide recommends:

  • using container twist locks to restrain ISO-type containers because they are the most efficient and secure way to restrain the load
  • engaging all four container twist locks when carrying ISO-type containers
  • ensuring that ISO-type containers are compatible with all relevant standards.


Those involved in loading and restraining goods may be legally responsible for ensuring that loads do not come off a vehicle, do not negatively affect a vehicle’s stability and do not stick out of a vehicle.

It is important to work through each step of the load restraint process. The Load Restraint Guide has mountains of information on restraint methods for particular types of vehicles and cargo.

In many instances, you won’t need to reinvent the wheel. Once you’ve worked out a process for ensuring that your containerised goods are properly packed and securely restrained, this can simply be followed with each subsequent same or similar load. However, you may need to change your process and practice if:

  • something suggests that the process or practice is not being followed – for example, you observe improper practice. As a result, you may need to revise, clarify or provide additional training, instruction and supervision
  • something suggests that the process or practice is not being effective – for example, you observe shifted loads. Under these circumstances, you may need to amend your practices
  • the general state of knowledge evolves and new and better ways of packing and securing loads become the norm – for example, if new and more secure forms of restraint equipment become readily available, you may need to ditch your old, outdated equipment and move with the times.

Author: Nathan Cecil

  • This article was originally published in CoR Adviser. The article is © 2022 Portner Press Publishing Pty Ltd and has been reproduced with permission of Portner Press.

The information in this article is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this article is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.

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