Safe handling when securing loads on trucks
Guidance for road transport operators and employees who use side-gates, side-curtains, restraint lashings and lashing tensioners, to eliminate or reduce the workplace health and safety risks of securing loads on trucks.
Securing loads on trucks
When loading and unloading rigid and articulated trucks, including trailers, road transport operators need to ensure the tasks related to the restraint and containment of loads are done safely. This includes the safe handling of side-gates, side-curtains and application of restraint lashings and tensioners.
Injuries are caused when:
- handling side-gates on trucks
- opening and closing side-curtains on trucks
- placing lashings and corner protectors over loads
- using tensioners with chains and webbing
Road transport operators need to:
- identify and assess hazards associated with these tasks as well as any hazards to public safety
- assess the risk associated with each hazard identified
- consider the likelihood of the hazard causing harm to a person
- consider the level of harm that may be caused to a person
- work out the available controls, including their cost, to eliminate the risks or reduce those risks so far as reasonably practicable
This Guidance does not provide advice on keeping loads attached to or contained within vehicles during transit. Information about that can be found in the Load Restraint Guide 2018 (LRG), published by the National Transport Commission and administered by VicRoads. The National LRG includes performance standards that are also outlined in the subsequent Victorian Road Safety (Vehicles) Regulations 2021 in Regulation 285. If you need further advice, consider engaging a competent load restraint professional.
Risks with handling side-gates on trucks
Lifting and carrying gates on trucks requires the application of high force and puts employees at risk of musculoskeletal injuries to the back, shoulders, arms and hands. If not secured correctly, employees are also at risk of gates hitting or trapping them, causing injuries to the head, back, shoulders and hands.
To eliminate or reduce the risk of injuries while handling gates on trucks and trailers:
1. Consider if you need to use gates to contain the load
There may be a more effective method (see point 2). Ensure you still meet the LRG performance standards
Gates alone do not 'restrain' loads unless they have been professionally designed and assessed. There are circumstances when gates can effectively contain loads. If containing dangerous goods, the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail (ADG7) requires dangerous goods to be carried on vehicles with rigid sides, fitted with gates or in approved segregation bins.
2. Use an alternative load restraint, but only if suitable for your load
- Vehicles with sturdy walls. For example, a folding side or sliding panel vehicle (Figures 1 and 2).
- Vehicles custom-designed for loads. For example, some pallet loads may suit a vehicle with combination internal side and middle expanding walls, combined with an inward sloping floor and load-rated curtain.
- Curtains that are load-rated on a curtain-sided vehicle, for example a tautliner truck. Manufacturer instructions for load type, weight and placement must be followed. Load-rated curtains are designed and assessed to keep certain loads restrained.
- Chains or webbing capable of securing the load. Ensure you still meet the LRG performance standards.
3. Use gates that are fixed to the vehicle and do not need to be removed during loading and unloading
- swinging gates that are hinged to the floor or roof posts, and lock into the vehicle coaming rail
- sliding gates (Figure 3)
- hanging gates. These hang from a flexible material such as webbing, wire rope or chain
Use a hanging system that prevents the gates from falling completely if any single part fails.
After lifting hanging gates from pin pockets, lower, rather than drop, the gates to prevent damage to the track and flexible material.
Most of these gates can be retrofitted to the truck.
Tracks and rollers for sliding or hanging gates should be regularly cleaned, maintained and repaired as necessary. A defective vehicle report, and record of maintenance will help you know how often they need cleaning.
4. Use gates that can be removed from the truck
If employees manually handle gates, they should remove and place gates from a solid platform that is a similar height to the truck tray. For example, a finger dock. This means employees will be handling gates in a safe working zone between the shoulders and mid-thigh height. If the gates are very tall and heavy, 2 employees should move them from the platform.
If the gates are removed and placed from ground level, 2 employees should move them unless the gates are short and very light.
The gate weight, height and handling frequency will need to be assessed. See the heading Number of employees recommended to handle side-gates when working from the ground.
When 2 employees are needed to remove gates, operators should arrange with the delivery site a second person to help the driver.
When removing gates, loads jamming against the gates put employees at risk of musculoskeletal injuries. If this is a common problem, operators and employees must identify the best way to eliminate or reduce that risk due to the identified high force.
Number of employees recommended to handle side-gates when working from the ground
The following table shows the number of employees recommended to handle side-gates when working from the ground for various gate weights and heights.
Calculation is based on:
- 2 lifts per minute, for 1 hour in a single day
- the trailer base being 120 cm from the ground
- the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Lifting Equation
Height of gate
15 kg or over
Risks with opening and closing side-curtains on trucks
Side-curtains on trucks can be difficult to handle and put employees at risk of:
- musculoskeletal injuries, particularly to the shoulders, back and hands, from the repetitive force of pulling curtains and using curtain buckles
- fractures, contusions and lacerations from trapped fingers in curtain buckles
- broken bones, fractures and loss of consciousness from side-curtains and end poles striking employees in windy conditions or falling loads when curtains are opened
If the curtains are load-rated, manufacturer instructions for load characteristics and placement in transit should be followed.
Eliminate or reduce risk of injuries by:
- using automatic curtains that are self-opening and closing
- if using manual curtains, using curtains with a track and rollers that have a plate with double bearings (Figure 4). These will slide better because they are less likely to twist when the curtain is pulled in different directions during opening and closing.
- using curtains with a securing system that does not involve buckles. This reduces the risk of pinched fingers and repetitive strain to the hands and arms.
Use load tensioners that operate outside the curtains so they do not need to be opened as often to check restraint tensions. For example, winches attached to the coaming rail or under-floor track can be re-tensioned without opening the curtains.
Check if the load is resting against the curtains before opening them. Check for deformity or pressure marks in the curtain, particularly at the top. Stand clear at the rear when releasing the curtain tensioner.
Use safe procedures for manually handling curtains, such as:
- checking for tripping hazards before opening and closing curtains
- grabbing 2 buckle straps, one in each hand, keeping hands close to the body and below shoulder height, and walking back slowly so the curtain moves smoothly
- being aware of the buckle locations to reduce the risk of buckles becoming tangled and limiting the curtain movement
Ensure the curtain track and rollers are regularly maintained and follow manufacturer instructions for lubrication. Keep the track clean by using air, water or vacuum to remove dust. Be aware of increased curtain resistance. This usually means the track or rollers need maintenance.
If the curtains or track needs repairing but the truck must be used in the short-term:
- clean the track and use dry lube to help rollers move along the roof track. This is generally a temporary solution because it will not help the rollers roll as they should.
- pull the curtains in sections — when opening, pull back a section of the curtains near the rear of the truck. Move forward and pull another section, then repeat until the curtains are fully open.
Load and unload the vehicle in low wind conditions, where possible.
If it is not possible to load or unload the vehicle in low wind conditions, open the curtain by undoing most, but not all, curtain buckles before releasing the curtain ratchet. This will lessen curtains billowing as soon as the ratchet is released.
Keep 2 or 3 buckles attached along the length of the curtain and only unbuckle these as the curtain is pulled back slowly.
When the open curtain is bunched at the rear of the trailer, secure it to the trailer to prevent the wind from catching it. For example, clip a section of the curtains with a buckle to the rear of the trailer or pass a rope through the buckle.
Risks with placing lashings and corner protectors over loads
Throwing or placing chains, webbing and other lashings over loads and through restricted spaces, puts employees at risk of:
- musculoskeletal injuries, particularly to the back, shoulders and arms
- fractures and concussions from chains thrown over loads and striking employees
- electric shock from chains and webbing thrown over loads and hitting electrical wires
- falls from height while placing chains, webbing and corner protectors on high loads
The risk of injuries can be eliminated or reduced by:
- not throwing lashing over loads near overhead power lines
- keeping pedestrians away from vehicles when restraining loads — for example, using barriers
- working from a platform ladder or elevating work platform
- when using chains — using a lead rope to throw and drag the chain over the load - this can reduce the risk of shoulder strain from throwing the chain and can cause less damage than a chain if it hits an employee
- using a system to apply and remove lashing and corner protectors while standing on the ground
Applying and removing lashing and corner protectors while standing on the ground could involve:
- using a purpose-built lightweight extension pole, especially one that grips the lashing or corner protector
- using a system designed for a curtain-sider that retracts the webbing straps to the roof of the trailer when not in use, eliminating the need for employees to climb onto the truck to position and pull straps over the load (Figure 5)
Risks with using tensioners with chains and webbing
Chains and webbing with tensioners are often used to restrain loads. Tensioners include webbing hand ratchets, under-vehicle webbing winches, chain dogs and other chain tensioners.
Using tensioners to tighten and release chains and webbing puts employees at risk of:
- musculoskeletal injuries, particularly to the back, shoulders and hands, from the repetitive force required to tighten chain tensioners, webbing winches and webbing hand ratchets
- pinched fingers from tensioners
- falls from overbalancing
- fractures, contusions and lacerations from being struck by extension bar handles used with over-centre lever style tensioners (dogs) — these can rebound and fly off the dog
The following recommendations depend on the type of load being carried. You should meet the LRG performance standards so loads do not shift during transit causing vehicle instability or fall and come off the truck.
Follow manufacturer instructions while using tensioners.
It is recommended you use the first listed control where possible and the third control as your last choice.
To eliminate or reduce the risk of injuries while using chains and webbing with tensioners:
1. Minimise the use of chains and webbing
Use systems to reduce or eliminate the need for chains and webbing. For instance use a coil containment system, pin, pegs, posts, headboards or goose-neck on a drop-deck trailer to help block the load (Figure 6).
Use a truck that is custom-designed for loads. For example, some pallet loads may suit a truck with combination internal side and middle expanding walls, combined with an inward-sloping floor and load-rated curtain.
2. Consider webbing straps as an alternative to chains
Webbing, if suitable for restraining the load, is lighter than chain. Webbing tensioners are also lighter to handle and will not need handling if they are fixed to the trailer.
If you use webbing, two 2500 kg lashing capacity straps can often replace one regular 8 mm chain with a 4000 kg lashing capacity. You will need to assess your load and should not mix webbing and chain.
It is important to remember webbing is slightly elastic and may stretch in transit. It can also be damaged by sharp edges on loads.
If you use a hand ratchet with webbing, use a pull-down webbing ratchet. This reduces the risk of shoulder injuries because it will not need to be repeatedly pushed up. The strap length should allow the ratchet to be between waist and shoulder height. This makes it easier to pull the ratchet handle (Figures 7 and 8).
If you use a winch with webbing, use a winch that does not require the removable handle to be reinserted with every turn. This reduces the risk of the handle coming off, causing employees to suddenly lurch. The handle should fit snugly on the socket or in the winch cap holes.
An example is a geared winch. This will generally not require the handle to be repeatedly reinserted. A geared winch also requires less force and encourages better posture because employees do not need to repeatedly bend low when positioning or tensioning the handle. The more teeth a geared winch has, the less force is needed to achieve high tension (Figures 9 and 10).
3. Use chains with non-rebounding tensioners.
If using chain lashings, consider an alternative to an over centre lever style load binder (a dog).
You should not use an extension bar to increase chain tension (Figure 11). Many employees find they cannot get satisfactory chain tension when using a dog. As a result, an extension bar is often used to increase chain tension.
Using an extension bar is dangerous during tightening and releasing because it can rebound quickly and may even fly into the air. This applies to generic, manufactured extension bars, pipe handles and any other makeshift extension bar.
Instead of using a dog, consider using a turnbuckle tensioner (Figure 16) or another type of non-rebounding tensioner like the turnbuckle that can eliminate the risk of kickback through a long handle (Figures 12, 13, 14, 15). Turnbuckles have no kickback and can achieve very high tensions without using extension bars.
If you are able to tighten a dog without an extension bar, use a recoil-less (pivoting) dog. These dogs do not store energy in the handle when under tension. This reduces the risk of hitting employees when the handle is released.
An extension bar should not be used to tighten or release a dog unless all other chain tensioners are assessed by the operator as unsuitable for each load and adequate tension cannot be achieved by the dog alone.
When using tensioners, employees should also:
- use gloves with all chain tensioners to reduce the risk of pinched hands
- position chain tensioners below shoulder height or use a stable standing aid when applying or releasing tensioners
- regularly inspect and maintain tensioners to ensure effectiveness and safety. A record — such as a defective vehicle report — and history of maintenance will help you know how often they need inspecting