Cargo Control and Physics: Beware of the Force

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) revised its long-standing cargo control regulations for commercial motor vehicles back in 2004. Since then, the rules have remained largely unchanged. They account for all types of trucks including flatbeds, refers, tankers, and even dry goods vans.

In short, truck drivers are required to properly secure their cargo prior to transport. Nothing can be allowed to move, let alone become dislodged and fall off a trailer. Dry van and reefer operators have less of a challenge given that their cargo is enclosed on all sides. Flatbed operators do not have that luxury. They have to secure their cargo by tying it down to the trailer bed.

In light of that, truckers with the best cargo control skills are the ones that understand physics. They understand the four forces that cargo is subject to during transport. They account for each of those forces by blocking and tying down cargo in specific ways.

The four forces are:

Forward force – experienced during braking
Rearward force – experienced during acceleration
Sideways force – experienced when making turns
Upward force – experienced when hitting bumps or on rough road.

The biggest of these four forces is forward force. This goes without saying. It is the greatest force because it is exerted as a result of cargo continuing to want to move forward even as the vehicle is decelerating. Forward force is a combination of kinetic energy, the weight of the cargo, and the vehicle’s rate of deceleration.

Tools for Overcoming Force

The revamping of FMCSA rules included some new rules for tie-downs, blocks, and other cargo control equipment. Though we will not go through the details here, it is sufficient to say that the government made it clear that they expect truck drivers to use the right kinds of tools to keep cargo in place. The rules specifically mention:

Bulkheads – Bulkheads are sometimes referred to as headboards or front-end structures. They are generally attached to the front of a flatbed trailer and used to block cargo from moving forward. Bulkheads are not required by law.

Webbing Straps – Webbing straps are used to tie down cargo when heavier chains are not required. They are made with synthetic materials that offer maximum control with a low weight cost.

Other Equipment – The rules go on to address chains, wire rope, steel straps, blocks, shackles, winches, and more. Fortunately for truck drivers, the rules do not stipulate how each of these different things have to be used to secure cargo. The rules only talk about the cumulative effect of choosing the right equipment.

It is interesting to note that the rules also draw a distinction between securing devices and tie-downs. Obviously, a chain qualifies as both. But while all tie-downs are also securing devices, not all securing devices qualify as tie-downs. Therefore, truckers have to make the distinction in their own minds as well.

There are very specific rules relating to the number of tie-downs necessary based on the length and weight of a load. The number of tie-downs is independent of other cargo control equipment, save the bulkhead. Why? Drivers can use fewer tie-downs if a bulkhead prevents cargo from moving forward. On the other hand, blocks do not reduce the number of required tie-downs.

It is All about Physics

We have said multiple times in the past that cargo control is all about physics. If you understand the physics involved, you should understand the four forces that are working hard to dislodge cargo. Keep those forces in check and your cargo will stay in place.


Heavy Vehicle Loads: Tips for Loading Ramps and Step Decks

Loading heavy vehicles onto a step-deck trailer is one of the most dangerous jobs in flatbed trucking. Both truck drivers and yard workers have to be especially careful during the loading process. They also have to make sure that they have the right tools for the task, especially heavy-duty loading ramps capable of safely handling the load.

Loading ramps come in multiple configurations based on manufactured design and driver need. Yet they all have a couple of things in common. Knowing the basics of how loading ramps work sets a driver up for safely loading heavy vehicles. We are talking front loaders, cranes, and other pieces of heavy machinery here.

Below are a few tips for loading heavy vehicles onto a step deck trailer. If you have any questions about using your loading ramps, please consult the documentation supplied by the manufacturer as well as federal guidelines from both OSHA and the FMCSA.

Use Two Ramps If Necessary

Light-duty vehicles can often be loaded onto a step-deck with just a single ramp under each axle. Heavy vehicles may require two ramps to spread the weight across a longer loading area. This is where ramp stands and pins come in handy. Start with a level loading area, then attach the first ramp on either side of the trailer extending out to ramp stands. Using adjustable ramp stands will be discussed in just a moment.

Next, extend each of the two secondary ramps from the stands down to the ground. Using a second ramp under each wheel extends the surface area of the load by two times. This will make for easier loading at less of an angle.

Introduce Camber for Low Center Vehicles

Vehicles with a low center of gravity may be more difficult to move the farther up the ramps they go. One way to facilitate a safer and more efficient process is to introduce camber to the loading ramps. This is done using adjustable ramp stands. If your ramp stands have multiple positions secured by pins, they are ideal for this purpose.

Under normal conditions, both ramps on either side of a single stand would be at the same angle. By raising the stand one or two notches, you create a scenario in which the upper ramp is at a lower angle while the lower ramp is at a higher angle. This camber should make it easier to move low center vehicles even as they approach the top of the ramp.

Use Blocks at the Back of the Trailer

Heavy vehicles can cause the back of a trailer to bottom out on loading. Not only is this bad for truck and trailer, it presents a dangerous situation that could send the load toppling off the ramps. The way to avoid this is to put blocks underneath the trailer’s rear bumper structure. This will keep the trailer stable throughout the loading process. Make sure the loading surface is hard enough to prevent the blocks from sinking under the weight of the load.

Using Ramps as Levelers

Some step-deck arrangements require drivers to use their loading ramps as levelers once the load is on the trailer. This is not something we can describe in detail as every load is different. The one thing we can say is to be safe while you are doing this. If you do not know how to use ramps as levelers, talk with somebody who does. Their knowledge and experience could save you from serious injury, or even worse, as a result of misusing loading ramps.