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Properly Securing Vehicle Cargo is Serious Business

Utility workers are required to receive electrical safety training on a variety of topics, including grounding, switching and tagging, de-energizing, live-line work, pole-top rescue and job briefings. Unfortunately, there are some training topics – like how to properly secure loads on vehicles – that are not always given the attention they deserve. For instance, when I first passed my commercial driver’s license test 25 years ago, I had to undergo training on proper inspection of commercial vehicles, physical limitations, record keeping and proper driving techniques. Part of the training discussion was about securing the load on a commercial vehicle, but not much emphasis was placed on its importance. As you and I well know today, properly securing cargo is serious business, and a failure to follow the rules may result in injuries, death and jail time.

Let me give you an example. Several years ago, a driver was hauling a load when it shifted and fell off the truck as he drove around a curve. The load bounced and landed on another vehicle. Both the driver and passenger died as a result of their injuries, and the driver was eventually convicted of two counts of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison. A civil suit filed by relatives of the deceased was settled for more than $300,000. According to a newspaper article about the case, the driver addressed the court and the family of the two people he killed at his sentencing hearing. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about these ladies,” he said. “It was never my intention to hurt anybody. I really didn’t think it was dangerous at the time. I was wrong.”

Now consider your own work experiences. How many of us have thrown pole butts, broken cutouts, insulators or crossarms in the back of a truck, assuming they will stay put because we have a tail plate or net across the back end of the load area? The truth is, this is considered hauling unsecured cargo.

If you are driving a vehicle that is carrying a load, or towing a trailer that is carrying a load or hauling a pole, you have to make sure the load is properly restrained. By neglecting to do this, you might cause an accident, injury or death as well as be legally liable if:
• Objects fall from your vehicle onto other vehicles or pedestrians.
• Other drivers swerve to dodge items that are falling or have fallen from your vehicle onto the road.
• An unsecured load crashes into your vehicle cabin during emergency braking.
• A load shifts and contributes to your vehicle becoming unstable or unsafe.

Requirements for Securing Cargo
So, what is necessary to ensure that the load you’re hauling is secure? Following is a summary of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s general requirements. The rules can be viewed in full at
• Cargo must be firmly immobilized or secured on or within a vehicle by structures of adequate strength, dunnage or dunnage bags, shoring bars, tie-downs or a combination of these.
• Articles of cargo that are likely to roll must be restrained by chocks, wedges, a cradle or other equivalent means to prevent rolling. The means of preventing rolling must not be capable of becoming unintentionally unfastened or loose while the vehicle is in transit.
• Articles or cargo placed beside each other and secured by transverse tie-downs must either be placed in direct contact with each other or be prevented from shifting toward each other while in transit.
• The aggregate working load limit of tie-downs used to secure an article or group of articles against movement must be at least one-half times the weight of the article or group of articles. The aggregate working load limit is the sum of:
    o One-half the working load limit of each tie-down that goes from an anchor point on the vehicle to an anchor point on an article of cargo.
    o One-half the working load limit of each tie-down that is attached to an anchor point on the vehicle, passes through, over or around the article of cargo, and is then attached to an anchor point on the same side of the vehicle.
    o The working load limit for each tie-down that goes from an anchor point on the vehicle, through, over or around the article of cargo, and then attaches to another anchor point on the other side of the vehicle.

Ensuring that cargo and loads are properly secured is not technically difficult. It takes a little time, but it is time very well spent. Don’t become a statistic or part of the evening news because of a shortcut. Be sure to always secure all cargo no matter its size or the type of vehicle being used to haul it.

About the Author: Lee Marchessault, CUSP, is president of Workplace Safety Solutions Inc ( He has worked in the electric utility industry in various capacities since 1978. He obtained a commercial driver’s license when it was first required and has written numerous articles about vehicle safety.

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