By Paul Abelson, senior technical editor
Talk trucking with just about anyone and you’ll talk about a lot of things. Trucks. Engines. Trailers. Tires. Fuel.
It’s not that often that the actual freight comes into the conversation beyond the answer to the cursory: “What are you hauling?” question.
Fact of the matter is, trucking exists because of the need to move cargo. You make money moving the cargo. And if it – and you for that matter – do not arrive in one piece, you won’t make the full bill of the load.
Beyond getting paid, cargo and cargo securement has taken on a new weight in recent years with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. And it’s not just the government that cares about your CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) compliance rankings. Shippers use it to evaluate whether or not to trust you with their product. Too high a compliance ranking can have FMCSA evaluating whether to let you stay in business, or at least whether to have you on their intervention list.
FMCSA has a series of Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, dubbed BASICs, among which is a Vehicle Maintenance BASIC. That category includes violations of cargo securement regulation.
Have a plan
Passing an inspection on the roadside, and FMCSA’s subsequent analysis through CSA, depends largely on your mindset.
The most professional way to approach cargo securement is the way FMCSA does, through a Safety Management Process (SMP). They look at your process, how you manage it, and how you control it to verify all is done properly.
Keep records of all roadside inspections and send copies of inspection reports to management if you are leased to a fleet. If you operate your own company, make sure your drivers send copies to you.
Make sure your drivers are trained on cargo handling and load securement. This can often be arranged through your equipment vendor. Develop procedures for load limit verification, loading, unloading, pre-departure securement and en-route inspections. Be sure to include what to do if your driver is prevented from performing an inspection by shipper policies or procedures.
While FMCSA is concerned with management and trucking cargo securement use and violations, the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) concentrates on keeping equipment, including load securement devices, in good working order. That is no small part of what FMCSA inspects for your CSA compliance ranking.
Training for securing loads is based on Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The pertinent sections are found in Title 49 CFR, Subpart I – Protection Against Shifting and Falling Cargo, Sections 393.100 through 393.136.
The Technology and Maintenance Council produces reference materials. Its “Recommended Practices Manual” reflects the best management practices for vehicle maintenance and operations. RP739 covers “Maintenance, Inspection and Operating Guidelines for Cargo Securement Systems Used on Flatbed Vehicles.” And RP745, “Maintenance, Inspection and Operating” Guidelines for Cargo Securement Systems Used with Van-Type Trailers and Truck Bodies,” supplements 49 CFR 393.
The RPs cover not just the securement device itself, but also all anchor points and hardware used to secure the anchor points to a vehicle. For platform trailers, devices include chains, straps, webbing, pipe or roll wedges, and even wire and synthetic rope, the most commonly used tie-down materials.
Know the ropes
Once you have a compliance system in place and have educated yourself with the proper techniques for maintaining and using cargo securement devices, it’s imperative that you routinely spend some time making sure everything is shipshape to do the job.
Much attention is given to tracks and mounting assemblies for tie-downs and cargo restraint. Tracks for sliding winches and railings should be inspected to ensure they are securely fastened and free of cracks and structural damage. There should be positive stops on all track ends to prevent them from falling off.
Winch inspection should include mounting devices that hold winches onto rails and all welds. Check winch mechanisms for deformed mandrels, bent or broken ratchet teeth, and bent pawls that could cause a sudden release while under loads. Ratchet tie-downs for web straps should be checked for cracked or deformed frames, damaged or missing pawls, ratchet teeth, and handle release cams. Hook ends should not be damaged or deformed.
Web ratchet assemblies should show no deformation. Any anchor bolts should extend through their lock nuts by at least 1 1/2 threads. If equipped for cotter pins, the pins should be present and bent 180 degrees apart.
Inspect webbing to ensure there are no deep cuts or burns, and that wear and abrasion are minimal. Webbing ends should be seared at free ends to prevent fraying. Hooks should not show damage or excessive wear.
Along with webbing, chains are frequently used to secure platform loads. Inspection should ensure that no links are stretched. Throat openings of hooks should not be bent or deformed, either by wear or damage. If any problems are found, remove chains from service. Do not attempt to repair them.
Chain binders should have hooks, hook eyes, end swivels, links, handles, and frames checked. Throat openings should not be bent or deformed. As with chains, never attempt to straighten anything on a binder. Replace it instead.
Although not as frequently used as webs and chains, wire ropes have their own inspection criteria, usually covering broken strands. Six broken strands per lay (one full turn of a strand around the core) or three broken wires in the same strand are enough to take the rope out of service. Discard wire rope with a broken core or a severe kink.
Spray serviceable wire ropes with a quality cable spray to eliminate internal friction and lubricate the core. A 50/50 mix of SAE 30 non-detergent oil and kerosene can be brushed on and allowed to drip clean as an alternative to spraying.
As with wire rope, check synthetic rope for cuts, abrasion, and broken strands. Once checked for damage, ensure all cargo securement devices are operable.
Edge or corner protection devices protect not just the cargo, but the chain, web or rope, from cuts and abrasion. They are part of the system and should be used and maintained as such.
RP745 is similar, but because the number of internal securement devices is limited to webbing, cargo tracks and load bars. Dunnage is also addressed. To work effectively, devices must be free of obvious defects. Any damage or excessive age will reduce its strength, its working load limits. This must be accounted for when calculating restraints for a given load.
Load bars can be bent, dented or cracked, all of which decrease a restraint’s working load limit. Anchor points and track systems and their support structure must be damage-free.
By taking this multi-pronged approach with the goal of protecting cargo through management and maintenance practices, you will wind up with your CSA compliance rankings where you want them – off FMCSA’s radar. LL