Loading and unloading flatbed trailers (or any other type of trailer) can be dangerous, and you should always think carefully about how you load them. Heavy loads, moving vehicles, or overturning ones, and working at height can all cause injuries or even death.

Stats of incidents reported in line with the Reporting of Incidents, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences (RIDDOR) regulations revealed that, in 2020/21, work-related accidents killed 123 workers. Fourteen of these were from something collapsing or overturning, and eighteen of them were from being struck by moving objects. Going even further back to the 2009/10 year, three deaths and 160 major injuries in freight by road were caused by falling objects.

In this post, we look at the potential hazards anyone loading or unloading a flatbed truck or trailer encounters, how to prepare a flatbed trailer for loading, and how to properly load a flatbed trailer and unload a flatbed truck trailer safely. We’ll also discuss how you can make loading a truck trailer, and unloading trailers in your own operation safer by investing in one of our solutions.

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potential hazards while loading and unloading flatbed trailers

Loading and unloading a flatbed trailer is a lot more dangerous than you might have realised. A host of different factors can trigger accidents:

  • load handling;
  • slips and trips;
  • hostile weather, including ice and wet or snowy conditions, and low light conditions or poor light can increase safety risks when accessing the load bed or working on it;
  • loose or damaged banding, or insufficient shrink wrapping, or other loose packaging could create the potential for trips when working on the load bed;
  • poor packing for fragile items or crushable ones, especially when using webbing straps, could cause product spill or damage;
  • poor load stacking, or voids in the load stacking, could make the loads unstable, and they could then collapse during transit or when the workers are unloading them;
  • bad load securing could cause the load to move during transit, creating a slip or trip hazard on the load bed.

Other slightly less obvious hazards include:

  • failure to communicate with the operator of the equipment handling the load;
  • not being familiar with the active workflow at a customer’s site;
  • having little direction, or no direction, from a supervisor, or not having any procedures to follow;
  • securing the load with an unknown or untrustworthy means;
  • distractions during the loading process, such as work with the straps or chains;
  • working in an area where the load could fall if it shifts, or standing in one;
  • helping in processes with which the driver isn’t familiar.

Then there are the risks that come with carrying loads by road. Trailers can cause traffic accidents. If the goods in transit are dangerous, they carry the risk of spillage, which can lead to fire, explosions, chemical burn or environmental damage.

how to load a flatbed trailer

Loading a flatbed takes care and skill. You can’t just load it straight up though. You must prepare it for loading first, which we’ll describe how to do below. With your trailer prepared and all the necessary safety checks conducted, here’s how you load your flatbed trailer:

Logistics company employee preparing to safely load a flatbed trailer by inspecting the cargo they will transport on a truck

make a plan before you begin

Improvising is a lousy idea when you’re securing a load. Before loading, you should form a plan of how you’re going to secure the load on a flatbed trailer. Having a clear mental picture of the final result is a much better strategy.

make sure distribution is even

Distributing the total weight/working load limit on the flatbed trailer is essential. To ensure you’re loading your trailer safely and legally within its accepted rating, add the distribution of the weight and the gross vehicle weight (the weight of the cargo and the vehicle). The tow vehicle hitch will take care of the rest of the weight. You never want one side of the trailer to be significantly heavier than the other, but rather have the load evenly distributed on both sides of the flatbed.

The load distribution can’t be more than the rating, and you must take the tyres, wheels and axles into consideration when calculating this. If you’re pulling a triple-axle trailer or tandem, you must consider the front-to-rear load distribution, too, so that you don’t overload the axles.

keep the centre of gravity under control

Keep the centre of gravity as low as possible. Do this by keeping heavy items on the floor and above the axles. When you’re loading upward from the bottom, keep the side-to-side distribution of the weight even, maintaining proper weight on the tongue. Always bear in mind your gross vehicle weight. Never go over your rating.

You should place about 60% of the cargo on the front half of your flatbed and 40% on the back half. Secure it with tensioning devices, chains, straps or other appropriate equipment. Flatbed trailers are often bumpy when in motion, so securing the load well is vital. If the load begins to move while you’re out on the road, you could lose control of the vehicle. A secure centre of gravity can stop this.

secure the flatbed load correctly

For cargo securement use the right chains, straps and tensioning devices for the types of goods you’re loading. Often, companies use tarps to protect the loads because flatbed trailers are open, and businesses use this type of trailer for transporting a wide variety of cargo. Tarps, of course, don’t just protect the loads, but they also help to contain and secure them.

secure the ramps again

When preparing your trailer for loading, it’s important to check the ramps. Some trailers have two or three folding ramps you can store against the trailer deck while you’re transporting the load. If your ramps don’t fold over, install straps and safety lock pins so that they stay in place.

check your load frequently

Even if someone else loads the trailer, it’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure it’s secure. If you’re the driver, check the load after the first 25 miles of driving to make sure the straps and chains are secure. Look for any chains or straps that have loosened. Check, too, for any straps that might have been rubbing and experiencing cuts or fraying from the rubbing, or causing cuts and fraying of other straps. Then check regularly during the journey.

preparing a flatbed trailer for loading

Of course, you can’t just begin loading the trailer as soon as it pulls up to the loading bay. There are a number of preparations a logistics team should carry out before loading the trailer.

inspect the trailer

Check the trailer isn’t suffering from any corrosion or damage before you load anything onto it. Inspect the hold-down openings. Make sure they’re strong and have no kinks or cracks in them. The hold-downs, also known as ‘D-rings’, shouldn’t have any bends in them either and should be tight against the deck. If you notice any damage, don’t load the trailer until you’ve repaired it.

After checking the deck, confirm that it’s level. You can do this by coupling the trailer to the towing vehicle and confirming visually if it’s level.

secure the ramps

The deck check is a good time to also check the ramps are secured to the trailer. You should also ensure that when you lower them, they rest firmly on the ground. When you’re using the ramps during loading, remove the pins and straps to lower the ramp to ground level. To avoid injuries, practise safe loading procedures. When lowering or raising something with a ramp, a solid foundation is crucial.

find the trailer’s anchor points, and inspect them

Before you load the trailer, you must find its anchor points and then inspect them. It’s important to know where these are so you don’t cover them with cargo. If you have any questions about how much these tie points can handle, be sure to get an answer for them before conducting any loading.

A unique load secured to a flatbed truck trailer, ready to be transported and then safely unloaded at its destination

select the right items for securing the load

Thick chains may be very strong but can damage certain types of loads, whereas straps and ropes are easier on cargo but aren’t as strong as chains. If you’re hauling pipes, vehicles or other items that roll, wedges, blocks and chocks are all important parts of your loading strategy. You can use nets to help secure loose materials. Whatever types of restraints you choose, ensure you know their rating as regards how much weight they can handle.

perform a worst-case scenario walkaround

Before you head out onto the road with your trailer, walk around the trailer and visualise how the trailer and the load you’re carrying will respond to the worst conditions you can imagine. How will it respond to large potholes? To high winds? To emergency swerving or braking? Despite hoping for the best, you should always plan for the worst when preparing your trailer and loading it.

how to unload a flatbed trailer

Just as you should take care when loading your trailer, and because there’s a certain way to load a flatbed trailer, you should also be careful when unloading it. Here are some tips on how to remove the load from your flatbed trailer safely:

avoid unloading on a slope

This is pretty straightforward: never unload your trailer on a slope. If you do, the cargo could shift and cause the trailer to tip over. You should also check there are no mounds or depressions, and that there’s no debris or unstable ground. This is especially the case if you’re using a forklift truck to unload your trailer.

ensure you have enough room to unload

Here we have another straightforward tip: give yourself enough room to unload the trailer. You should know where you are and have plenty of room to access the trailer bed

start at the back

When you load a trailer, you start with a pallet going up against the headboard of the trailer and load from side to side; when you unload a trailer, however, it’s the reverse: you should start at the back and unload, alternating from side to side. Note that if there’s no tractor unit attached to your trailer at the time of unloading, you’ll need to support the front end of the trailer.

use a safety ladder or a flatbed trailer ladder

Using a safety ladder or a flatbed trailer ladder makes unloading your trailer much safer because you don’t have to climb onto the tyres or any other parts of the trailer to access the load itself. A good trailer safety ladder will be strong, offer reliable traction on the steps and have support handles. You’ll also be able to unload the trailer quicker because you’ll be able to access the goods more easily.

Forklift being prepared to safely load and unload cargo from a flatbed trailer truck, inside a logistics company’s warehouse

using a forklift to unload a flatbed trailer

Before you start unloading or loading a flatbed trailer with a forklift truck, you must determine whether it’s the right piece of equipment for the task. If you decide a forklift is the way to get the job done, here’s what to consider when loading or unloading your trailer:

preparing for the task

When preparing to load or unload a trailer with a forklift, there are a number of things you must do:

  • Instruct the vehicle driver to stay out of the loading bay while the forklift truck is operating.
  • Ensure the transport vehicle’s brakes are engaged.
  • Chock the vehicle’s wheels.
  • Make sure the trailer bed can support the combined weight of the cargo and the forklift truck.
  • Consider the weather. Avoid loading or unloading in bad weather conditions.
  • Choose the forklift truck that has the best features for the conditions. For instance, an enclosed cabin for cold weather, pneumatic tyres for outdoor loading and unloading.
  • Make sure the loading dock plate is correctly positioned, level, secure and can cope with the combined weight of the load and the forklift truck before riding over it. Check the dock plate load weight is clearly marked, which it should be.

unloading with the forklift truck

When unloading or loading with a forklift truck, you should always perform the following:

  • Press the horn when entering or exiting a loading bay.
  • Pay attention to other vehicles, pedestrians or materials around you.
  • Evaluate each load before lifting. Avoid lifting unstable loads or unsuitable ones. Loads that are leaning or haven’t been properly secured are two examples.
  • Employ correct technique to prevent the trailer from tipping (i.e. keep the load balanced on the trailer).
  • Keep the forks pointed downhill when travelling down a ramp, and keep them pointed uphill when travelling up one.
  • Drive slowly and carefully. This can prevent damage to the forklift and trailer, helps to stop the alignment of the dock plate with the trailer from becoming disturbed and avoids shifts in the weight distribution of the trailer that could cause it to tip over.
  • Stay clear of dock edges, ramp edges and railcar edges.

loading and unloading your flatbed trailer safely with our loading solutions

You can make it extremely safe to load your flatbed trailers and unload them safely if you invest in one of our loading solutions. We’ve designed this equipment to help you and your business not only boost your efficiency when it comes to loading and unloading, but to also make these processes safer. In the case of working with flatbed trailers, there are three main options we’d suggest, which we’ll now discuss below.

modular rollerbeds

You’ll be able to load your flatbed trailer safely and easily with our modular rollerbed systems. We’ve designed these systems especially for use with trucks and trailer floors, van floors, warehouses, factories and more. These systems are easy to set up and will require only minimal changes to structures, if any at all. We can help you to install them and minimise any disruption to your logistics operations while they’re being installed.

You’ll only need one or two people to take care of the loading and unloading, and forklift trucks won’t be necessary. This reduces the potential for accidents because there will be fewer people in the loading area. The absence of forklifts from the process cancels out the possibility of these loading vehicles tipping over, of them falling through gaps between the loading bay and the trailer and of other potential incidents involving forklift trucks in the loading area.

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built-in rollerbeds

Our built-in rollerbeds are the real deal and can handle seriously heavy loads, thanks to a lifting capacity of 550 kilo per module per m. You can use this system for plastic block pallets or wooden ones, air cargo and containers. The heavy duty steel plates of the rollertrack system allow forklift trucks or pallet trucks to ride over them when the system isn’t in use.

That being said, you’re not likely to use a forklift when using this system. Built-in rollerbeds make loading and unloading safer by minimising the use of forklifts in your loading and unloading processes. As in the case of the modular rollerbeds, you’ll also only require one or two people to conduct the loading, which reduces the number of bodies in your loading bay and reduces the risk of accidents.

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powered cargo roller

If you’re loading heavy air cargo or oversized air cargo, such as aero engines, onto your flatbed trailer, the powered cargo roller is the solution for you. It’s automated and robust, and easy to use and maintain. It can handle unit load device (ULD) containers and pallets up to 20,000 kilos without them suffering any product damage.

The system boasts a combination of pneumatic roller and rise-and-fall rollertracks, and pneumatic electric-operated drive rollers. It’s immensely safe and features a braked motor which stops roll-out when power isn’t applied to it. You can integrate a built-in rollerbed into the trailer bed. Just like the modular rollerbed system, no forklift is necessary, reinforcing the safe nature of using the powered cargo roller.

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To decide what solution would be right for you, why not get in touch on our Let's Chat page? We’ll be able to suggest the best solution for you and install it so you can make loading and unloading flatbed trailers in your operation safer and swifter.

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