Female worker strapping down pallets on flatbed truck

If at all possible, secure the load from the ground. Climbing on trailers and/or cargo is a leading cause for slips, trips and falls.

This article is from the Spring 2015 issue of The Quill. To view the full issue, visit The Quill archive.

Working in, on, and around flatbed units has its own unique challenges for driver and third party safety. Drivers have the potential for injury while loading, strapping/securing, and tarping the load, and the reverse process when they reach their destination. This article deals specifically with securing the load and how to prevent common driver and third party injuries. It is not uncommon for drivers to sustain head, neck, and arm/shoulder injuries due to overexertion or being struck by an object.

Regardless of the weather conditions or whether pulling a flatbed or van trailer, it is important for drivers to warm/loosen up their bodies to help reduce the threat of injuries. Because the driver may sit for several hours driving and then start to do manual work, the muscles have a tendency to become stiff and stagnant with limited blood and oxygen flow. Before athletes start their sport, they take time to stretch and warm up their bodies. Drivers need to do the same thing, especially since their lifestyle is typically more sedentary than most. Provide drivers with easy stretch exercises they can do in and around the truck. Occupational physicians should be able to provide specific guidance that is best for your drivers’ work environment.

After warming up, the following safety tips will help prevent injuries while securing a load to a flatbed trailer. During loading/unloading and strapping/unstrapping, drivers should always wear a hardhat, gloves and safety glasses. If working near or around other vehicles, a safety vest should also be worn. Report damaged equipment to supervisors immediately for repair or replacement. Bindings that are frozen or difficult to operate increase injury risk due to additional stress on muscles and the skeletal system.

1. Walking/working surfaces

  • Before performing any securing, make sure the load is stabilized. Unstable loads can collapse on the driver as it is being secured to the trailer.
  • Wear appropriate slip-resistant footwear that is in good condition.
  • If at all possible, secure the load from the ground. Climbing on trailers and/or cargo is a leading cause for slips, trips and falls. If you must climb on the trailer, you should use the three-point system of ascent and descent at all times.
  • As you move around the trailer, be aware of your footing. Even if working from the ground, stepping in a small hole or walking on dunnage/debris in your path can cause injury.
  • Have a clear and level area all around your truck to help prevent unbalanced footing.

2. Strapping safety

  • If possible, secure a small diameter rope to a ball and tie the other end of the rope to your strap/chain. The rope must be long enough to be reached when standing on the ground on the other side of the trailer. Then pull the chain/strap up and over the load. Chains are heavy and trying to throw them over a load can produce injuries.
  • Regardless of whether you are throwing the rope and ball or throwing the strap/chain, make sure there is no one and no objects on the other side of the trailer that can be struck. Before throwing the strap, yell something loudly, such as “flying strap,” that will help alert individuals on the other side that you are throwing over a strap.
  • Use telescoping tools to pull straps down from the top of the load.
  • If the strap gets caught on the load, pulling on it can cause the strap buckle to strike you with force when it comes loose.
  • Use only undamaged straps/chains. Damaged units can cause injury when they break.
  • When unstrapping a load, do so with caution, the load may shift and fall as it is loosened up. Keep others clear from the area as the load is unsecured.

3. Tightening the load

  • Know the working load limit of chains and straps being used and never use defective materials. If they break while working with them, the recoil force can do bodily injury if you are struck.
  • Avoid using extension or cheater bars.
    • Their use increases the chance for exceeding the working load limit of the securement device and anchor points.
    • They have the tendency of breaking or breaking the winch handle when used with force. This sudden breakage can cause the driver to become injured if they are hit or lose their balance when it breaks.
  • Check winch brackets and the winch mechanism for defects that could break under pressure.
  • Position your body to the side of the bar so if the bar or mechanism should give way or suddenly recoil, the potential for injury is reduced. Never release the winch handle without verifying the ratcheting mechanism is fully locked between the teeth to prevent uncontrolled back spin.

4. En-route inspections

  • Per FMCSR 392.9 Inspection of Cargo, Cargo Securement Devices and Systems, drivers are required to make en-route inspections. When performing these inspections:
    • Pull into a safe area, as free of traffic as possible.
    • Wear a brightly colored safety vest to be visible to other drivers.
    • Never turn your back on traffic.
    • Look for cargo and securement devices that may have shifted or worked their way loose.
    • If you must climb on the trailer, use the three-point system.

5. Driver training

  • Regardless of the number of years of experience a driver has with load securement, always provide a comprehensive training program. This will help the driver get back to basics and will also demonstrate that safety and proper securement procedures are paramount with your company.
  • Have simulated loads sitting on old trailers and have new and seasoned drivers demonstrate their loading and securement practices.
  • Place emphasis on driver and third party injury prevention in addition to proper securement procedures.

Even though the driver will occasionally be expected to perform in less than ideal weather conditions and locations, the job requires commitment to following company policies and procedures to prevent needless damage and injury.

  • Categorized in:
  • Dock & Warehouse Safety
  • Workplace Safety
  • Transportation Safety