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Safety is one of the key concerns for anyone operating a semi-trailer. Most drivers, and those that share the road with them, focus on safe driving – but that’s not the only thing that matters. In addition to proper trailer maintenance and the driver’s personal health, cargo securement is one of the most critical parts of the job. Properly securing loads on trailers isn’t as straightforward as you may think, and for newer drivers, it’s important to understand the laws and guidelines to prevent a catastrophe.

The Dangers of Shifting Cargo

Proper cargo management is more than just being thorough. It can prevent everything from lost cargo to bodily injury. In some cases, catastrophic failures when securing loads on trailers have lead to death. No matter what type of cargo you’re moving, high speeds and momentum can turn anything into a danger.

Securing Cargo Loads to Your Trailer

Flatbed Trailers

Every type of trailer requires you to secure your cargo, but flatbeds offer a unique challenge. They have no sides or tops to help keep your load in position. This makes it easier to load and offload cargo, but much more difficult to keep it on the bed while you’re traveling.

Unsecured cargo is also at greater risk on a flatbed. In other trailers, poorly-secured cargo may get damaged – in a flatbed, it will immediately scatter on the roads. The result is typically lost goods, fees or fines and potentially even harm to near-by motorists.

Securing loads on cargo trailers involves the use of various tools to tie the objects down:

  • Cables
  • Winches
  • Webbing Straps
  • Chains & Load Binders

It’s important to use the right type of tie-down for the job. Chains may work for bigger objects, but you’ll need webbing straps for others. If you do use chains, don’t try to get them tight by hand alone. You need to use load binders to properly secure the cargo.

Because tie-downs need to be tight to keep your cargo from moving, you may need to invest in “V boards.” These help prevent strap damage to your cargo when the load you’re carrying would be easily damaged from the tight straps. They will also reduce wear on your straps, which will extend their lifetime of use.

The last major difference when securing loads to a flatbed trailer is whether you need a tarp. Some cargo requires a tarp to prevent the high-speeds of highway travel from sending loose bits all over the road. Other times, you may need to protect your goods from rain or other weather damage.

Don’t consider the tarp part of cargo securement! It should always be saved for last, after your cargo is already strapped and secured. A tarp isn’t a safe option for holding down a load – one tiny rip could spill your entire payload!

Dry Vans & Reefers

Loading the box of a dry van or reefer trailer is easier than a flatbed, but there are some important considerations:

A box trailer parked outside of a loading bay.

Shifting Cargo

It’s unlikely that your cargo will fall loose on the road due to the sides and roof of the trailer. But that doesn’t mean cargo won’t move. Movement on the road can cause anything stored in your trailer to move. Too much movement can easily damage the shipping boxes or anything contained inside.

Even if your cargo isn’t likely to be damaged, shifting cargo can significantly impact your ability to drive. If your load slides into the side of your trailer during a turn, it could tip over! Therefore it’s just as important in a dry van to secure any loose cargo to prevent as much movement as possible.

Uneven Distribution

Proper weight distribution is critical. That’s why weigh stations look at the weight load of each axle in addition to the overall weight. Traveling with unsafe weight distribution can even result in your trailer being stopped until it’s corrected.

Poorly loading your vehicle can also increase the wear-and-tear on the vehicle itself. This will eventually raise the costs of trailer maintenance and lead to a decrease in profits for yourself or your company.

Weight-Based Stacking

When loading your trailer, it’s important to get an overview of the entire haul. Items should be loaded based on weight, with heavier cargo being placed on the bottom. In addition to being easier to load, this helps for a variety of reasons:

  • A lower center of gravity aids stability
  • It reduces the risk of a trailer roll-over from shifting cargo
  • It reduces your chances of crushing cargo

Like uneven distribution, overloading a trailer can lead to damage that may leave you stuck on the roadside.

Driving Safely with Cargo

Plan Your Drive

Where you go will impact the safety of your cargo – certain states and highways are more difficult to drive with cargo than others. You can’t know the best ways to secure loads to your trailer if you don’t know the type of driving conditions to expect.

Modern tools have made it easier than ever to plan your trip. Mapping tools can show you the route, speed and time you’ll be taking on your drive – and instant weather forecasts are available on your mobile device all day.

There are certain types of roads you should be paying attention to:

  • Heavy or frequent curves
  • Steep grades
  • Heavy traffic areas

All of these types of routes will play a big role in how you operate your vehicle. Knowing what to expect can prevent a dangerous surprise.

Starting & Stopping Your Vehicle

It’s critical that you understand the impact your cargo has on acceleration and deceleration for your trailer. Even a light load will make a difference in how quickly you can start or stop. No matter how well you know your vehicle, every job will have a different effect on how your truck and trailer respond.

Cargo distribution plays a role in this too! Uneven cargo can cause issues with your tires losing contact with the road. Any time you lose contact with the road dramatically increases your risks and lowers your control over your vehicle. When making a sudden stop, this can be a life or death difference!

Inspect Your Cargo Regularly

On long trips, it may seem like a poor use of time to check your haul frequently. But constant shifting or sliding can cause your cargo to get loose from your initial attempts at securing it. The sooner you catch these issues, the less likely they are to lead to any damage. A few minutes here or there on your trip is well worth it to avoid showing up at your stop with broken cargo!


Contact Semi Service for Trailer Parts & Accessories

If you’re thinking of buying your first trailer and don’t know where to start, we can help answer your questions and guide you to finding the right trailer.

Contact us online or give us a call at (801) 895-4419 to get started today!

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