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Truck Safety Expert Witness:
"How to Safely Open Trailer Van Doors."

Truck Accident Expert Articles

By Don Asa Truck Driver Standard of Care Expert Witness - 2008 - Las Vegas, NV

It is obvious that trailers are designed to carry cargo.  Some trailers have swing doors, and some have roll-up doors.  Shipping containers have swing doors which are usually sealed as the container comes off the ship.  A driver cannot see the condition of the cargo before opening the doors.  This is true of any type of trailer and any type of door.

Truck Driver Safety Expert Witness

Since drivers cannot see through the doors to see the position of the cargo, they generally cannot tell if the cargo has shifted and is up against the doors. For safety’s sake when opening swinging doors, the driver should always take precaution and assume cargo is pressing against the doors.

Safely Opening the Doors.
The driver should crack the right hand door and stay behind the door, pull it toward them and latch it to the side of the trailer.  They should check on the cargo again before unlatching the left hand door. If by necessity it looks like the cargo has shifted and is against the left door, the driver should put a load lock on or push the cargo into place. To do so, they should leave the left door closed so they have something to hang onto while climbing up into the trailer. Once secure, the driver should pull the left door towards them, backing away keeping the door between the cargo and their body.

Even though the driver has now opened the doors safely and latched them, a driver still shouldn’t walk under the cargo. As drivers are not required to wear hard hats, it’s a great idea to make sure nothing is going to fall on your head.

Most of the cases where drivers are injured from falling cargo, the driver opens the door when cargo is leaning up against it. Cargo falling from 12 or 13 feet up in the air could led to a devastating blow to one’s head, shoulder, or body.

Drivers should remember that that cargo can also fall out while backing down a ramp. This usually happens as the driver applies the brakes, especially if the brakes are not applied smoothly.

It certainly pays for the driver to know what they are hauling.  It is important, when picking up cargo at a distribution center or a warehouse, to put load locks on before the driver pulls away from the dock.  Generally, the driver can’t close the trailer doors until they have pulled away from the dock far enough away to clear other trailers alongside their trailer.  The company or shipper that is loading your trailer can’t seal the doors until the trailer is pulled out of the slot.  That is the time that a driver should put your load locks on if they are unable to do so before pulling away from the dock.

Related Federal Regulations:
It’s also important to note there is a federal regulation involving safe loading: Section 392.9. Drivers should be especially aware of paragraph 4(b) of that regulation, which exempts the driver from being responsible for shifting cargo when pulling a sealed load.  This regulation does not, however, protect the driver opens the door to an unsecured cargo.  Sometimes the doors (especially of sea containers) have very stiff hinges and a driver doesn’t have enough leverage to pull the doors open and by necessity has to push because of leverage.  When such a problem exists, the driver should make sure the cargo is secured before they put themselves in a position where cargo can fall on them.

Key words to driving and surviving are Don’t Take Chances.
                        -Don Asa

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