Unloading flat-bed truck trailers

Guidance for employers on how to eliminate or reduce the workplace health and safety risks associated with flat-bed truck trailers.


Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable.


Flat-bed truck trailers are used to deliver mixed loads to a variety of workplaces. Employees are at risk of falling when accessing the flat-bed trailer.


Slips, trips and falls from flat-bed truck trailers can result in fatal or serious injuries, including:

  • death
  • musculoskeletal disorders such as sprains and strains
  • fractures, spinal cord injury, concussions and brain damage

These risks arise regardless of the height of the trailer bed from the ground.

Controlling risks

The hierarchy of control is a system for controlling risks in the workplace and helps employers fulfil their duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.

The hierarchy of control first instructs employers to eliminate hazards and risks. If employers cannot eliminate hazards and risks, then they must work through the hierarchy and select controls that most effectively reduce the risk.

Use the hierarchy of control to work out the best approach to prevent falls.

View more information about the hierarchy of control in Further information.

Where possible, eliminate the risk by working from the ground or from a solid work platform.

If the risk cannot be eliminated, use a passive fall protection device such as a temporary work platform or guard rail (figure 1).

Use a work positioning system, such as a travel restraint system, that prevents employees moving beyond any point where they can fall. Some well-designed work platforms incorporate travel restraints into their design (figure 2).

A fall arrest system should only be used where any of the above solutions are not reasonably practicable. Fall arrest systems must be supplemented by emergency procedures to enable a person who has fallen to be rescued immediately.

Install retractable or foldaway steps with hand rails integrated into the design or portable steps that hook onto the rope-rail of the trailer (figure 3).

The use of painted (yellow) high-visibility lines inside the perimeter of the trailer bed can provide supplementary protection by alerting people working on the trailer that they are approaching the trailer edge. Note: These should never be used as the only control measure.

Temporary guard rail on a flatbed truck
Temporary guard rail.
Unloading flatbed truck with solid work platform with an integrated travel restraint.
Solid work platform with an integrated travel restraint.
Portable hook step for a flatbed
Portable hook step.

Deliveries and equipment requirements

The duration and frequency of deliveries to workplaces, together with environmental conditions, need to be considered when determining the type of equipment to provide to employees.

Environmental conditions to consider include:

  • available space
  • ground surfaces
  • traffic and pedestrian proximity
  • weather

Where deliveries occur regularly to workplaces or where tasks take time to complete, higher-order control measures (for example, work from ground/solid work platform or temporary work platform/guard rails) should be available at the workplace.

Where it is not possible to have equipment at the workplace delivery site (for example, where the work is infrequent, of short duration or environmental conditions prevent the use of higher-order control measures), it may be appropriate to have equipment travel with the truck (for example, temporary guardrails).

More information