Avoiding Common Truck Driver Injuries

October 23, 2013

If you work in the trucking industry, it is important to be aware of the hazards you face and ways counteract them and stay safe on the job.

Driving a large truck for long periods of time can take a significant physical toll. Many truck drivers experience neck and back pain from sitting for long periods of time or carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder pain from steering their truck. Many people also experience injuries to the joints in their lower body as a result of jumping down from the truck cab.

Staying in good physical health, stretching and taking regular rest breaks can help prevent repetitive stress injuries. Truck drivers who start to feel persistent soreness would be wise to seek medical attention before the problem gets worse.

Carrying or lifting heavy objects has the potential to result in serious back injuries. Many truckers also become injured after dropping a heavy object or slipping/tripping while loading or unloading their truck.

Many of these injuries can be prevented by using the appropriate equipment and safety gear. Truckers should wear back braces, get assistance from others when needed and use mechanical aids to help lift heavy loads. Keeping loading docks and truck beds clean and dry can help mitigate against the risk of slip and fall accidents.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries examined truck loading and unloading accidents and outlined what happened in a few instances:

  • On January 15, 2010, a freight operations supervisor was assisting a forklift driver secure freight on a storage rack inside a trailer. The supervisor reached up and grabbed a piece of freight to steady himself when the 500 lb. pallet of freight shifted and fell on him.
  • On June 25, 2007, a truck driver was unloading a delivery of a 2-ton manufactured piece of steel. He was standing beside the truck unfastening a securing strap when the piece of steel, which was improperly secured, fell off the truck and crushed him.
  • On March 24, 2006, three workers were securing a load on the deck of a boom truck. The load came in contact with the levers of the boom crane, causing it to elevate and come into contact with an overhead high voltage power line. One worker was electrocuted. The other two received severe electrical shocks and were hospitalized.
  • On December 6, 2005, a truck driver was picking up waste drums of cooking oil at a restaurant. He was using the truck's hydraulic lift gate to lift the drums when he was crushed between the truck's bed and the lift gate.

The agency offers the following tips to prevent truck loading and unloading accidents:

All personnel on foot must be clear of the loading zone during all mechanized loading or unloading operations: Material and equipment can shift or break free during any location transfer. Workers on foot should never be on the opposite side of a truck from a forklift while it is loading or unloading material. Do not allow workers on foot in trailers while a forklift is involved in loading/unloading operations. Provide drivers a place to wait away from the truck.

Identify hazards before loading or unloading: All personnel involved with a loading or unloading operation should assess the potential hazards before the operation begins. A clear understanding of the procedures and communication between workers must be established. Site and freight specific knowledge is important. Avoid overhead power lines or steep grades. Visiting drivers should be made aware of their responsibilities.

Document and enforce standard operating procedures: Proper loading and unloading procedures should be established by trucking companies. All workers in the loading zones should be trained on these safe work practices and given refresher trainings periodically. Corrections and enforcement of company procedures, if necessary, should be carried out for any observed hazardous deviations in procedure.

Properly secure loads on trucks, forklifts and cranes: All loads must be secured to the truck, container, or trailer to prevent shifting of material and equipment during transport. Equipment such as load bars, vertical supports, and load straps should be used to assure that the load arrives in the same orientation as when it departed.

Follow correct procedures any time a load is raised and transferred: During transfer of any load, all personnel must stay clear of the path of travel. When moving multiple items or loads that may shift, properly secure them with straps, bands or other means. When raising and moving loads with a boom or crane, ensure that the path of travel is clear of hazards.

Implement safer sheeting and tarping equipment or procedures: Securing loads with tarps and sheeting presents a frequent hazard to drivers and other workers. Implement procedures or mechanical tarping/sheeting systems to assure workers are not exposed to hazards that increase the likelihood of an incident

Institute procedures to assure people are clear of trucks and trailers before moving: Companies should have procedures in place to make sure that any truck, trailer or container being moved is empty of all personnel and all workers on-foot are clear. Drivers should visually inspect and secure any truck or trailer and the area around it before moving it to assure all workers are clear. A visual sign indicating workers are in a trailer should be visible from the truck mirrors anytime personnel are working in or on a truck at a loading dock. Truck keys may be placed on a board by the loader during operations and returned to the driver once completed.

Protect all drop-offs, gaps, and pinch points on loading docks and lift gates: All loading docks should be equipped with dock-plates and physical barriers around any gaps that present fall hazards to workers or equipment. Use dock levelers to provide safe access to trailers. When using a hydraulic lift gate, block or avoid gaps and pinch points or install a safety trip bar.

Assure appropriate forklift and machinery equipment and training: Forklift and machinery operators are responsible for the safety of ground personnel at the site as well as themselves. Operators must be trained on safe operation of the equipment, load limits, loading procedures, and communication with other personnel.

Never be downhill of a moving load: Personnel should never be downhill of any load or cart being moved. Heavy or unstable loads or equipment failure could cause a cart or lift to move downhill and crush others. Care should be taken by equipment operators and by all personnel on-site to avoid locations that place them below a moving load.

Use wheel chocks and other vehicle restraint devices: All vehicles should be parked with a fully operational parking brake engaged during loading and unloading. Wheel chocks should be used in addition to the brake, particularly if any slope is present.

Wear a high visibility vest: Truck drivers should wear a high visibility vest whenever they exit their vehicle at their company yard or dock, a customer delivery site, or on the side of the road. All personnel working around moving vehicles and mechanized equipment during loading and unloading operations should wear a high visibility vest.

The agency also offers these tips for employers to help them manage and avoid loading/unloading accidents:

  • Analyze company injury data to determine where and how injuries are happening. Target your safety program to address these problems.
  • Establish safe procedures for all types of loading and unloading.
  • Train all workers involved in the operations or in the area of loading and unloading. Refresher training, periodic toolbox talks, or information sheets can help provide reinforcement.
  • Supervise workers and provide feedback for proper and improper procedures.
  • Maintain vehicles and equipment in safe operating condition. Failure of straps or anything securing a load can result in an incident. Communication between maintenance and management should occur regularly.
  • Conduct regular safety meetings that include management and other representatives.
  • Address "macho attitudes" or hasty work habits that may lead to unsafe conditions for people around trucks.
  • Encourage workers to report hazards encountered on the job.
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