Even though you might not be running a trucking company, your drivers may occasionally have to haul heavy items in the back of a pickup or on an open trailer. Other drivers on the road don't want to worry about a driver who has loose material bouncing around in his truck. We must be alert to the driver who has a top-heavy load in the back of a pickup that is not secured with the appropriate tie-down straps and is moving from side to side ready to topple over into the next lane.
The failure of drivers in not securing loads has reached a serious and critical level.
Company drivers and our next-door neighbors at home are equally guilty of failing to properly secure and immobilize loads. Whether it is scrap or materials from a job two miles away, just as most vehicle accidents occur within two miles from home, the same thing happens with the loss of a load of scrap material going to the nearest dump.
Drivers are simply not thinking before acting. Although we are aware of the potential consequences, we are just not giving our best effort to reduce or eliminate the potential for loss of load.
The problem is that we have become too busy, too lazy, or too haphazard to stop and realize the consequences of not assuring the load is secured before we drive off with it.
What makes it even worse is that most of us have been guilty of improperly securing the load we picked up at the local hardware store or lumber company.
What the Law Says
What can we do and what should we do to reduce such haphazard and unsafe acts?
First, we have laws that tell us:
"In order to prevent cargo or loose materials from falling off or spilling from a vehicle onto the roadway and possibly causing accidents or damage to the roads, drivers must comply with certain requirements." (The exact working can differ from state to state, but the intent is the same.)
Laws mandate that "no one shall load or transport any loose material over the public highways, such as dirt, sand, gravel, wood chips, or other material (except agricultural products in their natural state) that is capable of blowing or spilling from a vehicle unless:
1. The bed carrying the load is completely enclosed on both sides, the front, and on the rear by a tailgate, board or panel, and all are constructed so as to prevent the escape of any part of the load by blowing or spilling; and
2. The top of the load must be covered with a canvas, tarpaulin, or other covering firmly secured front and back to prevent the escape of the load by blowing or spilling. This requirement does not apply to any load-carrying compartment that completely encloses the load or to the transporting of any load of loose materials that is not blowing or spilling over the top of the load carrying compartment.
There are usually limitations regarding extensions over front and rear. They are:
1. No vehicle may carry a load extending more than three feet beyond the front nor more than four feet beyond the rear, unless a special permit is obtained.
2. When any load extends more than four feet beyond the rear, a red flag at least 12 inches square must be attached on the extreme rear of such extension during daylight hours or at night a red light visible for 500 feet (some expectations).
3. Motor vehicles or combinations thereof used exclusively for the transportation of poles or pipe may exceed the length or extension limits over front and rear of a vehicle, except that such vehicles may not exceed 65 feet in length and may be operated only between sunrise and sunset."
Those words are from the Texas Driver's Handbook, Texas Department of Public Safety, but similar terms can be found in the driver's handbooks issued by every state.
In addition to laws found in state drivers handbooks, the Federal Motor Carrier's Safety Regulations handbook makes it clear as to what commercial drivers must do to avoid losing the load. It has two pertinent sections:
- Section 392.9. Safe Loading.
- Subpart 1,393.100 through 393,106, Protection Against Shifting or Falling Cargo.
Here are some helpful hints for drivers who are preparing to load and carry cargo:
- Never place anything in your truck or trailer where most of the weight is above the highest part of the bed/trailer side rails.
Equipment racks or large pieces of machinery might fit in the back of a pickup, but without the essential tie down straps and blocking material, it is dangerous and unwise to move them.
Items that are top heavy or can tip over with the slightest tilt can be secured to the truck by using good common sense and appropriate tie-down materials. The tires should be checked before hauling this type of material because any fluctuation or tilting of truck or cargo can prove to be potential for danger. Good shocks and struts on the truck should be mandatory.
- Use common sense when loading and securing the load to be moved.
Tying the material should be consistent. Never think you have tied the item down too much. In this case, too much is good. It relieves the tension or question in the driver's mind as to whether the item will safely make it to its destination. Drivers following the loaded truck will also appreciate seeing items properly secured.
A good rule of thumb is: "If you think you have the load properly secured, don't believe yourself." In other words, you should never "think" things are tied down securely, you should "know" they are, without a doubt.
- When you haul material that protrudes from the back of the truck, use stabilizing material to keep things from shifting.
Yes, flag the extended material as required by law; however, do more than what the law requires. Remove all doubt as to whether the load will travel safely. Tie items together, secure them to the bed of the truck, go beyond what is expected to assure the material will not move.
Never think, "All I am going is a couple of blocks or miles and I'll go real slow." Instead, think, "That could fall out, the wind could blow and move things, I could hit a bump in the road, I could cause a real traffic jam or a serious accident if this falls out." After thinking, start tying, blocking and securing the load with one thing in mind, "I want to get this load safely home."
- Never have someone hold an item in place in the back of a truck thinking that he or she can stabilize the load. This is elementary but it is often abused. It results in many injuries, and in some cases, death. Everyone thinks they can stop a filing cabinet from tilting, a machine from falling, or an equipment rack from sliding. It is a mistake the best of us make, but it is a safety hazard that cannot be stressed enough. Not only can it mash fingers, or crush hands and feet, but an item moving around in the back of a pickup can actually push or shove the person from the vehicle. It is something that must not be tolerated by the driver.
- Carry elastic tie-down straps and/or rope in your vehicle at all times. Polypropylene rope is easy to use, stretch, tie, and untie. It is strong and can hold when other securing or lying material will not. Carry at least 50 feet of rope and make sure it's accessible at all times.
The best tie-down material for large items is a wide nylon flat strap and ratchet. This is expensive, however, and probably not convenient for the once-a-month hauler.
To summarize, I challenge your drivers to never carry a load in the back of a pickup without thinking of the consequences.
Gerald Cumby is fleet manager for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth, TX.