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Problems with unloading – what is the carrier responsible for and what are the rules?

Unloading and loading of goods are very important stages of transport. A momentary lack of focus can result in damage to the load or a costly mistake. As a rule, the driver’s responsibilities boil down to checking the condition of the goods and verifying compliance with the transport documentation. However, sometimes assistance with unloading is necessary or simply allows you to save more time. Who is responsible for securing the cargo? In what situations is the driver obligated to unload the goods? In the summary below, you will find all the information you need about unloading.

Unloading goods –  how does the process look like?

The unloading of goods is a key element in the supply chain. During loading, attention is paid to the appropriate protection of the transported goods so that they are not damaged during the journey. After reaching the destination (e.g. warehouse or shop), the place of unloading and applicable traffic rules should be determined. The driver must be flexible in this respect, because there are various types of warehouses, production halls or narrow company yards. Unloading consists in delivering  goods in accordance with the documentation to the agreed place and handing them over to an authorized person. The driver arrives at the indicated address, where they unpack the pallets using a forklift or crane. Sometimes there is a whole truckload of smaller cartons to be unpacked, where it is necessary to involve several people. The recipient of the goods should be prepared for this, providing several manual workers for unloading. Especially since the driver may have other transports to carry out on the same day. Some vehicles are equipped with a special crane that can facilitate unloading.

HDS transport – what is it?

HDS is nothing more than a hydraulic crane truck, i.e. a truck with a crane for unloading. It can be used both for heavy loads (e.g. building materials) and for groups of lighter goods. HDS services usually involve the driver of the crane truck unloading the vehicle. Cars with an overhang usually have a lifting capacity of over 1 ton, which allows them to move the vast majority of loads. HDS transport, however, requires special permissions, which can be obtained by completing the relevant course and passing the exam with the Office of Technical Inspection Committee.

Unloading – detailed definition

Unloading pertains to all the activities performed immediately after the end of the transport at the destination, aimed at removing the goods from the vehicle, including activities related to moving the load from the immediate vicinity of the vehicle to the warehouse, other space or storage place.

Most common problems with unloading

Generally speaking unloading goes smoothly. The driver supervises the process and usually has the opportunity to drink a coffee or get some fresh air. Unfortunately, sometimes problems arise that result from unexpected circumstances or the recipient’s improper preparation. Most often these are:

  • lack of the recipient’s proper preparation, which leads to longer unloading time
  • improper technical preparation – lack of an efficient crane or forklift
  • steep or uneven driveway preventing the use of a pallet jack
  • no contact with the individuals entered in the transport documentation
  • delay in the delivery caused by unfavourable weather conditions, traffic jams, or prolonged loading time
  • restrictions stemming from the regulations defining the driver’s working time
  • refusal to accept the goods at the destination
  • damage to the goods during transport resulting from inadequate securing of the load
  • cargo damage during unloading
  • waiting in line for unloading

Every driver sometimes encounters problematic situations during unloading. The key is to properly adapt to the situation and know the applicable regulations.

Who is required to unload the goods?

Pursuant to Transport Law, unless a contract or a specific provision provides otherwise, loading activities are the responsibility of the sender or recipient, respectively. Thus, the regulations leave the issue of the requirement to unload to be agreed between the parties, usually in the form of a contract. In international transport, other regulations and international agreements must also be taken into account. German and French regulations in this respect are identical to Polish regulations – carriers are not obligated to unload the goods. The only exception is for shipments up to 3 tonnes in France. The obligation to unload the goods should result from the contract of carriage or a specific authorization in this regard. Most transport contracts impose the requirement to unload on the ordering party. In practice, however, it is sometimes more convenient and safe to pull the pallet out of the vehicle on your own and put it in a safe place.

Unloading regulations

The main legal acts that are relevant to the unloading process is the Polish Road Transport Act and the CMR Convention. They describe, for example, the scope of the carrier’s liability for the goods. According to Art. 65 sec. 1 of the Act: the carrier is liable for the loss, partial loss or damage to the shipment arising from its acceptance for transport until its release and for delays in the carriage of the shipment. Similarly, the scope of responsibility is presented in Art. 17 sec. 1 of the CMR Convention, according to which the carrier is liable for the total or partial loss of the goods or for their damage, which occurs between the acceptance of the goods and their release, as well as for delays in deliveries. Thus, the driver is responsible for the goods until the end of unloading, i.e. the release of the goods.

Damages to the goods during unloading

The person who was required to carry out the unloading is responsible for it. The driver or the transport company may be held liable for damages to the shipment caused at the unloading stage only if the obligation to perform these activities was confirmed in the contract. The general provisions of civil law on liability for damages apply here.

Delayed unloading – what do you do?

At times, contact with the recipient of the goods can be difficult, there may be no people to unload, or the waiting time for unloading is unnecessarily extended. In such a situation, the carrier may exercise their rights under Art. 16 sec. 2 of the CMR Convention and immediately unload the goods on behalf of the authorized person. Unloading performed on your own obliges you to supervise the goods, or even to entrust the load to a third party. In order to secure the goods, the driver may transport them to the nearest warehouse and store them there at the expense of the ordering party. Of course, provided that the appropriate conditions are met.

Practical suggestions for problems encountered during unloading

  • Expect the unexpected, because during transport and unloading you may encounter a lot of random, everyday situations.
  • Try to document all attempts to contact the recipient of the goods.
  • Whenever possible, inform the orderer a little in advance that you are approaching their company with the goods. Thanks to this, you will allow them to prepare properly.
  • Read any comments, additional notes and other information that can be found in the shipping documentation.
  • Ensure proper technical preparation – usually drivers use the popular pallet jack and crane to unload the load.
  • Check what unloading rules are included in the contract of carriage.
  • Don’t stress, try to approach problems objectively and routinely. Sometimes more nerves means the situation will be only exacerbated.

It is worth investing in OCP insurance covering damages during transport.