Trailer Door Safety

Opening Trailer Doors – Simple, Right?

By: Terry E. Morgan, Surface Transportation Board Practitioner,

Distinguished Logistics Professional & Certified in Transportation and Logistics

The subject of opening cargo trailer doors is kind of a no brainer,” right? Covering a subject

like this may seem very basic, to the point you may choose to ignore it. Of the approximate 1,000

trucking cases I have been involved in, something on the order of 10 or 15% or so have dealt with

injuries that occurred when the doors of a cargo vehicle have been opened and one or more pieces

of freight came cascading out and landed on an unsuspecting victim. It usually happens because a

driver, dock worker, loader, or others involved with opening cargo vehicle doors as well as the

people that loaded the vehicle were not adequately trained on the seemingly simple procedure of

opening a door. According to the Department of Labor, trucking is among the most dangerous

professions. Training is essential to prevent the possibility of being brought into a workers

compensation issue, a law suit, or a U.S. DOT or OSHA audit involving injuries from falling freight.

Though opening truck and trailer doors may sound like an issue that hardly warrants training,

very serious personal injury accidents are caused by not knowing the proper way to close them or

open them. With swinging doors (bam doors as they are called), drivers and dock workers must be

taught the safe way to close them and open them. People that load trailers, must start with the

premise that trailer doors do not qualify as securement devices. The Truck Trailer Manufacturers

Association Recommended Practice RP No. 47-99, 2.1 states, “Doors are not considered as cargo

securement devices.Assuming this practice is violated and the load is not otherwise secured by

securement devices, the proper way is to ALWAYS keep the door between themselves and the

freight. When opening the door on the right side, which opens first, as the latch is partially released

and before it totally releases, the door should be pushed to be sure it can move even slightly back and

forth with little or no pressure. If it does not easily move that Y2 inch or so, it is likely that the freight

has shifted and is pressing against the door. Should there be any question or even a suspicion, the

person opening the door should enlist the assistance of a forklift. The forks should be moved

together and placed near the center edge of the door, the latch can then be fully released, and the

forklift can than back up slowly. As the door opens, people should not be anywhere near it or the

opening. If freight cascades out of the trailer, it cannot be predicted where or how it is going to fall.

If there is no pressure against the door, the driver should stand to the right of the edge of the door,

keep his left hand on the door, his left arm ridged and release the latch slowly with his right hand.

Should the door be pushed open by falling freight the driver should be so positioned that the door

will push them out of the way of the falling cargo. Using a forklift to open trailer doors should be

the rare exception. Trailer loading personnel must be trained to ALWAYS use cargo securement

devices and never to rely on cargo trailer doors to secure freight.

Opening the left door is a little different. With the right door opened and secured, the driver

should look inside to be absolutely certain there is no freight leaning against the left door. Should

there be anything obstructing his vision or insufficient light to be able to see clearly, he needs to

check again. Even if everything is safe and in place, material handling personnel should develop the

habit of positioning themselves so the door pushes them out of the way should it be pushed open.

The latch(s) should always be worked using the same hand as the door. The right hand works the

right door latch and the left hand works the left door latch. In both cases, the other arm should be

extended out fully with the hand firmly on the door.

Roll up doors have the potential for a different set of problems. If they are normally opened

from the ground because no loading dock is available, a grab bar should be mounted to the back

comer of the truck/trailer body to hold onto and non-slip material placed on the ICC bar or step.

When climbing up into the cargo area, the entry and exit system should be designed so the driver has

three parts of his/her body on the vehicle at all times. This could be two feet and one hand or two

hands and one foot to limit the possibility of a slip and fall accident.

If a roll up door will not go up, it should never be forced open with a forklift. Roll up doors

that will not go up, that had been working satisfactorily before, a mechanical problem is probably

not the cause and it is more likely to be shifting and or falling cargo pressing against it. There is no

simple answer to getting the door opened. Usually, roll up doors will open a little with freight

pressed against them. To get them fully opened, it may mean getting someone under the door that

can rearrange the load so it is clear of the door. This too could be dangerous. Having this experience

once will present a good case for whoever loaded the vehicle or transported it to properly secure the

freight with cargo securement devices so it does not shift and/or fall against the doors to prevent it

from happening again. As with “bam doors,” roll up doors should never be used to secure cargo.

Other cargo securement devices should be used.

The resulting litigation from an accident of this type often can bring the entity that loaded the

vehicle in as a defendant because the freight was not properly secured and the doors were sealed

preventing the truck driver from inspecting the load and securing it; the motor carrier that transported

the load might be a defendant because they have the obligation, under the safety regulations, to

inspect and secure the freight they transport; or make the plaintiff responsible for their own accident

if they did not take the appropriate precautions in opening the doors.

DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended to be legal advice. It is only intended to be information based on the experience of the

author and only under the specific circumstances contained herein. Consult with a qualified allorney to determine how the issues

outlined above may apply to your specific circumstances.

How can it be the same thing only different?

By: Terry Morgan, DLP & CTL-AST&L &

Surface Transportation Board Practitioner

Who loads a cargo carrying vehicle can make the difference in establishing liability

for loss or damage to the cargo or for injuries during transport or during the delivery process.

Loading or unloading a truck seems like a straight forward and simple process and, in most

cases, it is. After all, it happens thousands of times everyday in every comer of the country. From

a litigation prospective it has a number of twists and turns that will affect liability issues. Trucking

industry safety is largely regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. According to those

regulations, usually the trucking company and the driver bear the ultimate responsibility for the safe

operations of the truck but those regulations, generally, do not apply to people that ship or receive

freight on trucks (consignors and consignees). OSHA Standards apply to them.

Frequently, the shipper will load the trailer, secure the freight, and, frequently, apply a seal

to the trailer doors. The driver is likely not to be present at the time of loading, and many times,

even if he/she is, the shipper may not permit drivers on the loading dock. In the trucking industry

this is known as a Shipper Load and Count shipment. Usually Shipper Load and Countor SLC

is noted on the face of the bill of lading. If it is not there, it really does not change the facts of the

loading process. The implications of transporting a SLCshipment are significant. Trucking

companies are usually liable for the full value of the goods they transport (with some exceptions).

Liability for loss or damage to goods on a SLCshipment are limited to proven carrier negligence.

By contrast, on shipments observed by the driver during loading that are lost or damaged during

transportation, the trucking company is liable for the loss or damage with very few exceptions.

Another major facet of loading liability is when someone gets injured because of shifting or

falling freight either while the cargo is in transit or during the unloading process. If the shipper

loaded the freight, secured the cargo, and sealed the trailer doors or the trailer was loaded in a

manner that makes inspection of its cargo impracticable, the trucking company generally is not liable

for injuries caused by shifting or falling freight. Cargo trailer doors do not qualify as securement

devices. Freight must be secured by some other acceptable means. If the cargo vehicles doors are

opened and freight rains down on an unsuspecting driver or cargo handler, it too can be litigation in

the making. Liability for injuries of this nature usually fall on the people that loaded the truck/trailer.

If a trucking company driver witnesses and/or participates in the loading process, secures the freight

for transport and could have made changes to the load to make it safe for movement, then the

trucking company and driver could be liable for any shifting or falling freight damages. If the

shipper assumes responsibility for the loading process, without the driver observing or his/her input,

then they may be liable for any shifting or falling freight damages.

DISCLA IMER: This article is not intended to be legal advice. It is only intended to be information based on the experience of the

author and only under the specific circumstances contained herein. Consult with a qualified attorney to determine how the issues

outlined above may apply to your specific circumstances.