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Safe Flatbed Loading & Unloading Procedures For Truck Drivers - FMCSRs

Truck Safety Expert Witness

Truck Accident & Truck Loading Safety Experts

By Jim Acock Truck Safety and Standard of Care Expert – October 2013 - Phoenix, AZ

We get called on often to opine on the proper safe procedures for loading and unloading of cargo onto or off of flatbed trucks. As far as we have been able to ascertain there is no syllabus on this issue. So we have, from years of work in the industry, decided to set out an informed and comprehensive procedures for these operations. This is no easy task as the variety of loads transported on flatbed trucks is almost endless. There cannot be an absolute step by step rule on every load that a driver may encounter. We will attempt to generally address the common issues to most loading/unloading of flatbed trucks. If these issues are thought about and applied, most loading/unloading accidents can be avoided.

Truck Loading and Unloading Standard of Care Expert Witness


First: some of the language associated with these procedures:

  1. Danger zone:  The area around the truck that could hold some danger to the driver or others.
  2. Safe zone:  The area around the truck that is relatively safe to be in during the process
  3. Load Securements:  Those items used to secure loads to flat bed trucks ie; chains, straps, ropes, cables, chain binders, cable or strap winches
  4. Chocks:  Blocking used to prevent movement of loads or trucks
  5. Skids:  Items used to slide cargo off trucks (or placed under cargo)
  6. Stickers:  Material used to separate cargo or make a platform for cargo
  7. Dunnage:  Material used to block cargo in some way and generally keep it from moving.
  8. Fork Lifts:  Machine used to lift and move cargo by means of forks.
  9. Crane:  Machine used to lift cargo by means of cables or slings
  10. Cheater:  A bar used to increase leverage for tightening/loosening straps or chains 

Some of the issues to be aware of:

Issue number 1 - Know and establish your danger zone. This zone will vary with each load and load type.  It can be as much as 40 to 50 feet completely around the truck or as small as 5 to 10 feet in a concentrated location. The factors that need to be considered are size of cargo being loaded/unloaded, the method used to load/unload (i.e. crane, forklift etc., and movement of cargo to/from the truck, what can go wrong and how far away do I need to be when something does go wrong).

Issue number 2 - Once you have decided your danger zone never turn your back on the loading/unloading process while in this “Danger Zone”, always plan and know your escape route, be aware of others in the danger zone (even if you are not responsible for their movements) as they may impact your safety. Remember, you will most likely know your load better than anybody else.

Generally speaking it will be your responsibility to remove/place your securements and turn the unloading/loading over to whomever is operating the equipment or in charge of the crew performing the work. In this case it may be necessary to work closely with the operator or operators when you perform the necessary function of securing or removal of securements. They may need to hold the load in place while you place or remove securements. You must communicate with them and have an understanding of your intentions and signals. Make sure they know not to move or release the load until you are in a safe zone and signal them to do so.

Remember that very often the closest “emergency” safe zone may be under the trailer.

Issue number 3 - What constitutes a “Safe Zone”? That will usually be the area outside the danger zone, keeping in mind the forgoing “emergency safe zone admonition”. This zone will be the area that will be safe when anything that can go wrong does go wrong. “Always expect the unexpected”. It can be just a few feet or as far as necessary to be absolutely certain you and anybody else will be in the “Clear”.

Issue number 4 - When using a cheater bar remember the force that it can exert and keep hands, fingers and chin clear. Understand the requirements of the securement rules contained in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) Part 393.100-136 and if in doubt add more tie down securements.

Issue number 5 - (related to flatbed cargo, not necessarily loading/unloading) Remember, drivers are required to do load checks in accordance with FMCSR part 392.9, within the first 50 miles and whenever there is a change of duty or the vehicle has been driven for three (3) hours or 150 miles whichever comes first.


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