To transport heavy equipment safely, preparation is highly important. Poor loading or unloading is responsible for nearly 50% of heavy equipment transport injuries. Because of this, there’s a specific procedure companies follow to minimize risks. Its steps are as follows:
- Risk assessment. They’re preemptive documents which permits shippers to prove the thorough and detailed nature of their fleet management process. You can add one to the protocol you use to prepare for transporting the equipment.
A supervisor or senior management can do it. It must contain the complete timeline of the transport and operation, the weight loads, any project risks that should be considered and how you plan to deal with them.
- Use PPE to prepare your sites. The industry’s backbone is safety. The crew will be equipped with a full set of protective equipment throughout the operation. To mitigate risk, PPE documents are essential. The permit application and risk assessment will be stronger when the team’s safety protocols are noted. Heavy equipment tie-down requirements will also be noted.
- Inspecting the trailer or truck’s hauling capacity. The following step is to check the state of the vehicles you’ll use for transport. The following parts must be inspected:
- Tires. You should check the tires’ condition and pressure. If one of the truck’s tires is weak, it will quickly lose air due to the huge load pressing down on it.
- Brakes. The truck’s ability to brake is also affected by the oversized load. The brake’s components must be in good condition to avoid accidents.
- Lights. They must all function properly.
- Tie down points. The load’s spacing, securement condition, and point number must be verified. If the load is above 10.000 lbs., you may need at least 4 tie down points in some states. Each point will need a boomer or binders, as well as chains that will be linked to hitch points on the trailer. You need to inspect the boomers since they’re supposed to provide tension in order for the chain connection to be tightened.
- Weight. The limit of your tie-down working load must be equal to at least half of the load’s weight.
4 tied down points are obligatory in most states. However, more may be necessary for some equipment. If a machine has appendages or attachments, they must be removed and secured separately. In this case, 5 points would be needed. Excavator transport is an example where 5 tie down points are needed.
Safely loading heavy equipment
Issues with loading heavy equipment are usually not because the team didn’t follow a certain procedure. In most cases, they arise from following the protocol in a passive, halfhearted, or rushed way.
Getting the equipment on the ramp and fixing it with a few chains is insufficient. To make sure it’s legally and reliably loaded onto the platform, the following safety measures are important.
- Duties must be assigned. Every person in the team must know what their responsibilities are during loading. Someone will be in charge of driving the machine on the platform. Another will need to give hand signals, so the driver can do his job safely.
Furthermore, the team must know what loading procedure is used according to the docket. The loading operation must not be interrupted by other vehicles or by drifting personnel. Once the process begins, it can be dangerous to stop.
- The trailer and ramp must be cleaned. Oil, dirt, and other debris must be removed from the ramp, especially metal ones. This will give heavy equipment the most traction as it’s driven onto the trailer.
When we say clean the ramp, we’re also talking about keeping it clear of water, snow, or ice. Friction devices can be used if there’s concern about whether the equipment can safely make it up the ramp.
- The loading area must be cleared. The ramp must be set on an even and uninhabited space. Like most steps on this list, this too is intuitive. However, during peak hours or when the workday is particularly busy, some of these measures can easily be forgotten.
The ground beneath the loading area must be compact and capable of bearing the loaded trailer’s full weight. There’s a chance of sinkage when the vehicles’ weights combines with bad weather conditions like thaw or rain.
- The ramp and machine has to be lined up. The equipment will be driven up the ramp while a spotter guides the driver from a clearly visible position. While it moves up the ramp, the heavy equipment will experience a shift in its center of gravity.
There is a risk of tipping over, so proceed with caution. Once the equipment arrives on deck, it should ideally be positioned in such a way that most of its weight is on the trailer’s front. This way, fishtailing during the trip will not occur.
- Finally, the equipment must be chained down. Before transporting the equipment on public highways, the laws in the state it’s passing through must be verified. While most states require four or five tie down points, some may pose other restrictions as well.
When tying or chaining down heavy equipment, the following 3 aspects must be considered:
- The chains must be secure and tight. To avoid the equipment bouncing or shifting during transport, the chains must be tight and leave no wiggle room.
- The tie down points must be located properly. The tie down points will be appropriately labeled by most manufacturers on the machines themselves. However, special care must be taken if these points end up being near brake components, hydraulic hoses, or the equipment’s cylinders. Nonetheless, it’s important to respect the instructions in order to obtain tight and compliant links, and of course, to ensure the machine does not get damaged.
- The Binder grades and chain must be matched appropriately. There will be a number on the metal around 4 or 5 chain links apart. The number must be cross-referenced with the boomer handle’s number, so the 2 are aligned. The components you tie down must have a total working load limit of more than half of the equipment’s weight. The load limit and the chain’s grade must not go over the listed limit.
To tie down a loader, excavator, etc. the following tips will also be helpful:
- Every chain needs to be secured linearly, without angles, bends, horizontal twists, or downward force.
- There should be no slack. The excess chain must be wrapped around the remaining link.
- One should use a minimum of 4 chains. 2 must link with the front corners of the trailer and another 2 will connect with its back corners. The opposing forces will create tension keeping the heavy equipment immobile.
- The hook and chain’s size must be reviewed every time. Them being tight and complementary is a must.
How to safely move heavy equipment
There are a growing number of auto accidents involving cargo transport and heavy trucks. Good loading procedures can help prevent such accidents, but how the equipment is transported on the road is equally important. Here are some recommendations:
- The transport route must be mapped before starting. The more linear it is the better. There are plenty of videos online showing trucks trying to squeeze beneath an overpass and failing while damaging themselves and the cargo they carry. Such situations can be avoided by planning the route early and by using a run through on the actual road.
Rural areas are especially dangerous. The bridges on the way to the destination must be researched, as well as the width of the roads leading there. Ideally, there should be as few stops, starts, turns, bridges, and bad terrain as possible.
- A transport permit will be needed. Most heavy equipment is overwide and oversized, so a transport permit will likely be mandatory. Heavy equipment liability is placed on dozers, graders, dump trucks, excavators, cranes, etc.
Transport companies must prepare accordingly. This may imply using a state permit or strategies involving deconstructing the machinery before transport.
- The wheels need to be immobilized. Though it costs time, it’s an important step to ensure the equipment is secure. The machinery’s parking brake will have to be used. Then, cradles, chocks, or wedges will be placed against the wheels, so in the event of a brake failure, the equipment will still not move. By doing so, the equipment will be protected against, sideways, upward, rearward, and forward forces that may press it during transport. While securing the wheels, we also recommend checking the manufacturer’s guidelines or the spec sheet for any specific conditions they may outline.
- Flashing lights and signs will be placed on the transport vehicle. Lights, signs, and proper banners will be used to designate oversize loads during transport. In some extreme cases, escort vehicles will be needed. One will guide the truck while a second vehicle alerts automobiles of the operation from behind.
Cell phones are insufficient for maintaining communication between the escort and transport vehicles. As a standard in our industry, communication is maintained using CB or two way radios.
- During transport, complaint inspections must be performed and documented. Just because the transport has begun, it does not mean no additional inspections need to be performed. Especially when the distance is long, it’s important to check and inspect the equipment regularly.
According to safety standards in the industry, these benchmarks should be used when it comes to inspections:
- An inspection must be performed after at most 50 miles of driving.
- Afterwards, every 3 hours or 150 miles a new inspection must be made.
- Finally, when chancing the duty or driver station, another inspection is needed. The new driver will inspect the equipment and document it in his transport log.
Unloading heavy equipment safely
To finish the transport process, the equipment needs to be safely unloaded from the truck. Similar to the other steps, there’re specific strategies and steps transport companies follow to reduce risks:
- The unloading site will be leveled and cleared. Within the yard where the vehicle will arrive, workers will clear the area reserved for the equipment long before it comes. Similar to the loading phase, uneven ground or muddy/wet ramps can lead to a much more difficult and potentially dangerous operation. When the truck arrives, only necessary team members should be present in the unloading area.
- The truck will be walked through to the unloading area. After parking the vehicle, the ramp will be prepared for deployment. In a methodical fashion, it will be lined up with the trailer’s rear. The joints will be matched and no gaps will be left between the ramp and the trailer. Repositioning the ramp will not be possible when the machinery starts moving.
Once everything is prepared, one last condition survey will be performed. The heavy equipment’s hitches and tires will be checked to make sure they’re functional. The staff’s roles will be reviewed, and the positions of equipment operator and spotter will be filled.
Afterwards, the tie points of the chain will be broken down. Before releasing them, it’s a good idea to verify their condition as well. If the equipment shifted during transport, undoing the chains and straps can be highly dangerous. In this situation, the unloading plan will have to be adjusted.
- The equipment will then be released from the chains one by one with the rear corners being first. If there is excess chain, it will have to be unraveled. Then, the tie downs will be loosened using wrench boomers. The binders and chains will still be pressurized and tight, so this part must be handled carefully. If the tension isn’t reduced using a ratchet boomer, there’s a good chance the chain may suddenly snap.
- The heavy equipment will be driven off the ramp. There should be enough distance between the spotter and the heavy equipment. It’s likely that the operator will lose visibility, so the spotter must be in a safe position from where he can give directions.
While the equipment is being unloaded, unnecessary personnel should not be near the site. Everyone’s attention must be focused on the task’s completion.
After the equipment has been unloaded from the truck, a final inspection will be conducted on the tools, anchor points, transport vehicle, and every other equipment involved in the operation. After the transport’s conclusion is documented, the job is officially done.
Written By:Joe Webster
Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing.
After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood.
With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.