KANBrief 4/23

Fall-protection barriers on railway wagons for car transport

Open double-decker car transporters have been used for many years to transport passenger cars by rail. During loading and unloading operations, workers must perform activities on the upper deck of these railway wagons. However, the barriers on these decks are substantially less than one metre in height. The recently published Fachbereich AKTUELL FBVL-011 aims to minimize the risks to workers and support affected companies in taking effective safety measures to prevent falls from a height.

Workers are at risk of falling when loading and unloading open car transporters, for example when walking adjacent to passenger cars or attaching/removing load securing equipment. Risks arise owing to the upper deck being at a height of approximately 2.6 metres above the top of the rails, and the horizontal ropes attached to the sides of the wagons being only 0.6 metres above the deck floor on which the workers walk.

The reason for this low height is the requirement for the German railway building and operation regulations (EBO) governing shunting and train movements to be observed. In the past, higher barriers have been rejected owing to the risk of incorrect use, potentially leading in turn to incalculable risks to rail operations during movement of the wagons (for example if the barriers are not lowered prior to travel). In addition, the legal requirements concerning railway operations must be observed. These often do not permit the use of fixed equipment with barriers to prevent falling, owing to the clearance between adjacent tracks being inadequate.

In the past, organizational and personal safety measures have been defined to reduce the risk of workers falling to a minimum. These measures include the assignment of suitable personnel who have received specific instruction, or the wearing of slip-resistant footwear.

Review following amendments to the statutory requirements

Loading and unloading tasks on open car transporters continue to be carried out in accordance with the provisions described above, at least in some cases.

Surveys reveal that passenger cars manufactured in Europe and loaded on these wagons have increased in width and length by an average of ten and 20 centimetres respectively over the last 20 years. The dimensions of the car transporters, however, have remained unchanged. As a result, the available space and gaps for workers on the car transporters have decreased, further increasing the workers’ risk of falling.

Legally speaking, railway wagons constitute work equipment. Car transporters thus also fall within the scope of the German Ordinance on industrial safety and health (BetrSichV). The TRBS 2121 Technical Rules for industrial safety and health governing risks to employees presented by falls from a height (general requirements) specify how hazards are to be assessed, and how measures to prevent falls from a height are to be taken. This means that the freight handling enterprise concerned is required to set out suitable safety measures to prevent falls from a height for the activities performed during the handling of passenger cars. However, occupational safety and health measures are hampered by the fact that a number of different companies are involved, directly and indirectly, in transport of the cars. These include the manufacturers of the rolling stock, track system operators, rail transport companies, the companies dispatching the road vehicles, and the terminal operators and their subcontractors carrying out the freight handling work.

Suitable solutions: an overview

Owing to the high cost and practical obstacles of putting suitable fall-protection equipment such as scaffolding in place, priority should be given to the use of safe work equipment, i.e. car transporters with sufficiently high barriers to safeguard against falling.

A number of manufacturers now offer car transporters with swing railings. These have a height of at least 1.00 metre in the upright position, and significantly increase the protection for workers. Such barriers constitute the state of the art, thereby also satisfying the requirements of the German Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health (BetrSichV) with regard to the risk of falling.

In conjunction with the labour inspectorate of the state of Bremen, the German Federal Railway Authority (EBA) and KAN, the Railways (railbound transport systems) Subcommittee of the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) is working on drawing attention to the risk of falling during tasks on open car transporters and reducing the risks to employees as swiftly as possible. For this reason, the subcommittee has drawn up an FB AKTUELL document (german), which was published by the DGUV’s Transport and Landscape Expert committee (FB VL) in March 2023. The FB AKTUELL describes the issues and outlines suitable solutions.

In this context, it should be noted that manufacturers of work equipment – including rolling stock – are required to assess the safety risks associated with their use, lay down appropriate safety measures and take these risks and measures into account during manufacturing. Other stakeholders must be involved and their obligations to ensure worker safety and health observed. This aspect must be taken into account in the procurement of car transporters.

Gerhard Heres,
(graduate engineer)
UVB (German Social Accident Insurance Institution of the Federal Government and for the railway services)
Unit Prevention – Railways
Member of the DGUV Railways (railbound transport systems) Subcommittee

Fachbereich AKTUELL FBVL-011 has the purpose of supporting the companies involved in the transport of passenger cars on car transporters in taking effective safety measures to prevent falls and thus enabling workers performing tasks on the decks of car transporters to do so safely and without accidents.

For more information on the complex interaction of railway legislation and occupational safety and health, see: What we do Railways/rail transport