6 Steps to Securing Transport Loads
When transporting cargo across long distances, it's important to stop occasionally while still in transit to make sure the load is still strapped in properly and remains secure.
Modern transportation has made life a lot easier but not necessarily less hazardous. One transportation hazards that remain a serious concern is unsecured loads. These pose a threat to the drivers, workers tasked with unloading, and anyone in the vicinity of the vehicle during transportation.
Unescured loads also put people in danger further down the road - literally. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that road debris, including materials from improperly secured loads, is responsible for approximately 50,000 automobile crashes each year.
In this article, we’ll go over six tips that will help you ensure that your cargo is secure and safe from falling or tipping.
Where Is the Risk?
There is always a risk of load loss when heavy machinery is transporting something. Cement blocks or a bulldozer being transported on a tractor trailer? Steel beams being moved by a crane? A forklift carrying a pallet full of chemical drums? All of these could fall if they're not secured properly.
(Learn more in What You Need to Know About Crane Safety)
Although it's a potential hazard on many different types of jobsites, securing loads is a topic that might be overlooked during toolbox talks and tailgate meetings. In part, that's because it seems like common sense - everyone loading big, heavy items onto a large moving object knows that those items need to be secured, right?
Right. But that doesn't mean it gets done consistently or always gets done well.
When heavy rain is pummeling workers or storm winds are blasting them with snow, those responsible for ensuring that the loads won't budge might rush through the job, cut corners, or simply skip the procedure so they can get back to sheltering themselves from the elements. Some workers might also decide it's a waste of time to secure a load that will only travel a short distance - across the warehouse floor or further down the jobsite. Of course, that's simply not the case - a load can shift and fall whether it's being moved a dozen feet away or across the state - but it's easy to rationalize skipping that crucial step.
Industries with a greater risk for unsecured loads include construction, manufacturing, storage and warehousing, and long-haul trucking. To be properly secured, the cargo must not:
- Shift within the vehicle
- Become detached
- Obstruct the driver's view
- Block the vehicle's lights or headlights
- Compromise the stability of the vehicle
Load Securement Standards
The United States Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) North American Cargo Securement Standard (NACSS) establishes procedures for securing loads during highway transit in the US, Canada, and Mexico. The standard applies to commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) operated across state lines with a gross vehicle rating of more than 4,500 kilograms (or 10,000 pounds).
Non-CMVs carrying cargo on public roads are subject to similar state or local laws. Loads that have additional securement requirements include logs, concrete pipes, metal coils, paper rolls, machinery, vehicles, heavy equipment, roll-on/roll-off containers, and large boulders.
The cargo on a CMV must be secured on or within the vehicle by structures of adequate strength, including dunnage, dunnage bags, shoring bars, or a combination of these.
The cargo securement system must be capable of withstanding:
- 0.8 g deceleration in the forward direction (80% of cargo weight)
- 0.5 g acceleration in the rearward direction (50% of cargo weight)
- 0.5 g acceleration (50% of cargo weight) in the lateral direction (turning, changing lanes, or braking while turning)
- 0.2 g or 20% of cargo weight when traveling over bumps in the road or cresting a hill
6 Tips to Ensure Your Load Is Secure
Understanding that a load must be secured is one thing; knowing how to properly secure it is another. These guidelines will help you ensure that your cargo is kept stable and everyone is kept safe.
1. Pay Attention to Machinery Load Limits
One of the easiest ways to put the equipment operator and surrounding workers in danger is to overload a lift truck, crane, or other type of heavy machinery. Some operators think they can rely on experience or instinct to know when a load is too heavy. While this method may work sometimes, it’s extremely unreliable and dangerous.
Each piece of heavy equipment has a maximum load limit. That limit is usually written on the data plate. If you’re not sure what the weight of the load or the capacity of your equipment is, check with the manufacturer or supplier and employ a load measuring system. Do not guess.
(Learn more about Forklift Safety with Attachments)
2. Verify that Slings, Lashings, and Other Restraint Gear Are in Good Condition
The safety and security of the load depends on the quality and condition of the tools and gear used to secure it. If you’re using slings or straps that are excessively worn, there’s a chance they could break or give way while the vehicle is on the move.
Before you secure any load, inspect the gear you’ll be using for wear patterns or signs of damage. If you find any, remove those pieces from service immediately.
3. Check the Load Occasionally During Transport
If you’re transporting cargo across longer distances, pull over occasionally to ensure everything is as it should be. Chains and straps can shift and stretch with movement, and regular stops give you a chance to inspect them and re-tighten as necessary.
4. Confirm that Tie-Down Points, Binders, Hooks, and Clevis Pins Meet Capacity Regulations
Various components work together to ensure that a load is secured and remains in place, and they should be inspected to verify that they are up to the job.
In addition to examining each of these components, take some time to consider how they all work together. After all, a chain that can handle 5,500 pounds won't be able to actually handle a load that heavy if the binder you're using with it is only suitable up to 3,000 pounds. Before you begin securing your load, you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t exceed the lowest weight that your tools can accommodate – not the highest.
5. Perform Regular Maintenance on Hoists
Falling materials from crane hoists can be exceptionally dangerous. Maintaining hoists on a regular basis can help prevent falling loads, keeps the hoist in good working condition, and ensures that you know how much weight it can safely handle.
6. Don’t Forget to Consider Center of Gravity and Load Balance
In addition to being secured, the load must be properly balanced. Off-balance loads can tip or slip out – or cause the equipment carrying them to tip. An imbalanced or off-center load can also affect braking and steering on tractor trailers and other heavy machinery.
Whether it’s via tractor trailer, crane, or another piece of heavy equipment, transporting goods can be risky. Properly securing a load – whatever it may be – is the best way to prevent an accidental load loss and mitigate the potential for serious injury to workers or pedestrians in the vicinity.