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 worker‘s
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 Count” or “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 “SLC” shipment 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 ‘ SLC” shipment 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 vehicle‘s 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.