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Safety Tips for Loading and Unloading Cargo

What's in this article?
  1. Always Use A Cargo Strap To Secure Your Load
  2. Make Sure You Have Everything You Need
  3. Stabilize The Truck
  4. Don't Overload Your Truck
  5. Report All Spills And Water Ejects Immediately
  6. Use Dock Levelers
  7. Loading Areas Should Be Well-Lit
  8. The Loading Area Should Be Free Of Traffic
  9. Observe All Loading Dock Safety Protocols
  10. Review The Safety Of Loading Docks Often
  11. Lift With Care
  12. Have A Plan Ready
  13. Have The Right Tools
  14. Be Aware Of Hazards And Dangers
  15. Communicate Effectively
  16. Don't Assume
  17. Trust Your Instincts
  18. Conclusion
Safety Tips for Loading and Unloading Cargo

You're driving down the highway when you see a truck hauling a trailer. You can't help but wonder how they do it – how they manage to keep that big, heavy load steady and under control. It looks so precarious like it would be easy for something to go wrong.

Well, you're not alone in your curiosity. Loading and unloading cargo is a tricky process and one that requires careful planning and execution. Here are a few safety tips to help you stay safe while loading and unloading cargo.

Always Use a Cargo Strap to Secure Your Load

Cargo straps or tie-downs come in many different styles, sizes, colors, and materials. They're used to tie down loads of any size or shape. The best way to choose the right type of cargo strap is by looking at what you need them for.

For example, if you need to secure an oversized truck, look for a long cargo strap with a large buckle. On the other hand, if you need to tie down smaller items like furniture or boxes, look for a short cargo strap with multiple buckles.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), straps must be linked and secured to prevent them from becoming loose, unfastened, opening, or releasing while the vehicle is in motion.

Whenever possible, all straps and other components of a cargo securement system used to secure cargoes on a trailer with rub rails must be positioned inboard of the rub rails.

In addition, edge protection must be utilized anytime a strap's point of contact with a cargo item is susceptible to abrasion or cutting. The edge protection should be resistant to abrasion, slicing, and crushing.


Make Sure You Have Everything You Need

When loading your vehicle, ensure you have enough cargo straps on hand to secure your load correctly. If you don't, then you could end up tying down your load using only one piece of strap, which isn't very strong. This could result in damage to your cargo and even injury to yourself.

When cargo is not blocked or positioned to hinder forward movement, the number of tie-downs required is proportional to the length and weight of the cargo. There must be

1) one tie-down for articles 5 feet or less in length and 1,100 pounds or less in weight;

2) two tie-downs if the article is:

  • longer than 5 feet or heavier than 1,100 pounds.
  • Five feet or less in length and weighing more than 1,100 pounds.
  • Regardless of weight, five feet or more but less than 10 feet in length.

Stabilize the Truck

Before any cargo is loaded or unloaded from a truck, the truck must be totally stopped with parking brakes engaged. The usage of trailer restraint devices and wheel choking systems can minimize trailer creep and prevent drivers from moving before trailers are completely loaded or emptied.

According to FCMA guidelines, cargo must be firmly immobilized or secured on or within a vehicle by structures of suitable strength, such as dunnage or dunnage bags (inflatable bags used to fill gaps between articles of cargo or between cargo and the vehicle wall), shoring bars, straps, or a combination of these.

Don't Overload Your Truck

Overloading your truck can cause serious problems. First off, it makes it harder to steer. Second, it can cause your vehicle to become unstable and unsafe.

Overloaded trucks tend to sway back and forth more than normal ones. While this may seem like a good thing, it actually means that you're putting yourself and others around you in danger.

Secondly, make sure your cargo is evenly distributed in the truck bed. Unbalanced cargo can cause the truck to overturn.

The aggregate working load limit of any securement device used to prevent the movement of an article or group of articles must be at least half the weight of the article or group.

The overall working load limit consists of the total of:

  • One-half of the working load limit of each tie-down (strap) that extends from an anchor point on the vehicle to an attachment point on an article of cargo; and
  • The working load limit of each tie-down extends from an anchor point on the vehicle, through, over, or around the shipment, and then attaches to another anchor point on the vehicle.

Report All Spills and Water Ejects Immediately

Liquids on loading dock floors can cause slips and falls, as well as severe injuries. Therefore, notify any spills to the foreman or management at the loading dock in order for them to be cleaned immediately.

Use Dock Levelers

A dock leveler bridges the difference in height between a loading dock and a trailer. As the height of trailers can fluctuate when cargo is unloaded or as more goods are put onto vehicles (making them lighter or heavier, respectively), dock levelers help maintain trailers stable and at the same height while weight changes occur.

Consider that hydraulic dock levelers may be safer than their mechanical counterparts, which pose their own harm risks and have a higher failure rate.

Loading Areas Should Be Well-Lit

Don't work in the dark. Lighting is essential for any business with the frequent loading or unloading of trucks. If workers do not have a clear, well-lit environment in which to perform their duties, it's an accident waiting to happen.

The Loading Area Should Be Free of Traffic

Forklifts are needed for loading and unloading operations; however, they can be a leading cause of worker injuries. Loading zones should always have one-way forklift traffic flow. This protects personnel from being struck by forklifts that are reversing, thereby ensuring their safety.

Maintaining a traffic-free loading zone also applies to employees. Never should loitering or unauthorized employees be present in loading/unloading zones. This merely creates diversions and risks that can rapidly grow into a catastrophe.

Observe All Loading Dock Safety Protocols

Read the signs and abide by the loading dock's regulations. These regulations are in place for a purpose, and loading dock employees will likely expect truck drivers to adhere to them and to be in specified locations.

The greater your ability to follow regulations and perform your duties at the loading dock, the smaller the likelihood of accidents and injuries is.


Review the Safety of Loading Docks Often

This might cover everything from general safety best practices to how to utilize specific safety equipment, the most effective methods for lifting heavy objects, and how to correctly balance and secure goods.

Lift With Care

Loading and unloading cargo can be dangerous. Lifting too much weight can strain your back and shoulders. In addition, improper lifting techniques can lead to injuries, including spinal injuries.

To prevent having to deal with back pain, later on, lift with care and follow the instructions below:

  • Start by bending at the knees rather than straightening out.
  • Lift with your legs rather than using your arms to pull the load.
  • Keep your body straight and upright throughout the entire task.
  • Make sure to maintain proper posture at all times.
  • Don't round your back.
  • Use a wall or sturdy object to assist you whenever possible

Have a Plan Ready

Before loading or unloading your track, make sure to think about the size of cargo, resources, and personnel available, and the distance to be covered.

Knowing your goals ahead of time gives you an excellent reference point for how you should carry out the project. It also forces you to take extra precautionary measures to ensure safety.

Have the Right Tools

Every job has its own set of unique challenges. Some jobs are easier than others. With the right equipment, however, you can tackle anything. A few pieces of essential equipment every professional worker needs include:

  • Work gloves: Help protect your hands so that you do not scratch yourself while handling sharp objects or hot metals.
  • Goggles: These ensure that your vision remains clear during tasks where there might be splashing water or dust.
  • Hard hat: Helps protect your head from accidental blows. Without a hard hat, you put yourself and others at risk.
  • Safety boots: These prevent you from slipping on slippery surfaces such as rooftops and stairways.
  • Sturdy leather belt: Ensures that your pants remain tight. Having them loose can result in injury.

Be Aware of Hazards and Dangers

Never underestimate the potential dangers involved with cargo transport. The job involves lifting heavy loads, which puts you in a position of being exposed to various risks.

This includes injury from falls, hitting overhead obstructions, crushing injuries from falling objects, or even electrical shock from contact with high voltage lines.

Communicate Effectively

Communication plays a significant role in ensuring that nothing goes wrong during the course of your work. By communicating with others clearly and concisely, you establish trust between each other and make your work safer.

Don't Assume

In case something does go wrong, and you need to improvise, never hesitate to ask for assistance. You may end up saving someone else's life.


Trust Your Instincts

As long as you stay alert and prepared for emergencies, you will always find yourself safely at home when work hours are over.


These are just a few of the many safety tips that you should keep in mind while loading and unloading cargo. By following these tips, you can help prevent accidents and ensure safe loading and unloading for everyone involved.

If you are seeking professional cargo transportation conducted by experienced professionals, we at A-1 Auto Transport are here to help.

Contact us today for a free quote – we are more than happy to be of assistance to you.

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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.

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A-1 Auto Transport is a disclosed agent for the following shipping companies:

Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus Drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
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