Damaged freight happens. But through diligence, attention to detail, and a deliberate routine, freight damage claims can be reduced to a minimum. Develop a set of defined steps for you and/or your drivers to take when their trucks are being loaded, unloaded, or while transporting the freight. Here’s how.
Pretrip inspections are the first preventive measure for each driver. Inspection of the trailer prior to being loaded is crucial. Have your drivers look for any places where there are leaks or a potential for leaks. Then, inspect the trailer floor. Are there places that could damage a pallet, a crate, or cause a piece of freight to become ‘hung,’ potentially damaging the item being loaded or compromising the integrity of the trailer?
Next, are there plenty of cargo securement devices in good working condition for the type of freight to be hauled? The devices will keep the cargo from shifting, falling or damaging adjacent items or the trailer.
driver-supervised loading/unloading should be considered. Unless the driver is prohibited from being on the loading dock or picking up or dropping off a shipper-loaded trailer, it’s imperative he/she supervises the entire loading and unloading process. It’s the driver’s responsibility to verify the condition of the cargo and load count of the items placed into the trailer. It’s also his or her responsibility to ensure the cargo is loaded and secured correctly to prevent damage during transit, plus avoid overweight tickets and other fines. It’s difficult and time consuming to rectify any problems regarding the load once the driver has left the shipper’s or receiver’s facility. Any discrepancies need to be resolved before the driver pulls away from the dock.
Documentation should be a series of defined steps. Discrepancies that cannot be resolved should be documented on the shipping papers. Any unresolved discrepancies should be acknowledged in writing on the shipping papers with the shipper or receiver signature.
Your driver must also notify your trucking company and broker (if one is involved) immediately and prior to the driver leaving the loading or unloading facility. The driver should not leave until all issues regarding the load are resolved. It’s best to have an agreeable resolution while at the dock; once the truck leaves, it complicates the ‘who’s the responsible party’ issue. Deal with it while the cargo can still be re-inspected.
photograph any damage, load securement concerns, or other issues that could result in a cargo claim. Drivers should have a camera on hand. Have your driver take the time to document and photograph any potential cargo claim. Your carrier’s staff will thus be better prepared to handle any future claim, saving hours of research and possibly thousands of dollars.
Another situation is when the driver is required to use the shipper’s or receiver’s load count. There are loading facilities that won’t allow the driver in the dock area during loading and unloading or where the trailer is preloaded in a drop-and-hook operation. Your driver must write SLC (Shipper Load and Count) on the shipping documents with the shipper’s representative signing the notation.
When the shipper places a trailer seal on the trailer, the driver must note on the shipping documents that the “Shipper sealed the trailer with Seal # ___.” Written or printed in ink, “Seal # 09876 Intact” is considered proper and sufficient documentation. It’s highly recommended drivers carry extra trailer door latch seals and high-quality locks to be placed alongside the shipper’s seals.
Cargo should be checked by the driver before leaving the dock to make sure it’s blocked, braced and secured to protect it from shifting. The type and number of cargo securement devices should be in accordance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
Again, if the shipper loaded and secured the cargo, the driver notes it on the shipping documents. If the trailer is sealed and the driver isn’t provided access to inspect how it was loaded, this too needs to be noted and signed by the shipper’s representative.
If a shipper representative is not available, or they refuse to sign, then have your driver note it on the shipping papers, contact the broker, call your staff, and make sure all details are correctly documented before leaving.
Inspect the load and the tractor-trailer each time he/she stops in transit. The driver should inspect cargo securement devices to ensure they haven’t loosened, frayed or broken. Check the cargo to make sure it hasn’t shifted and that there are no new points of entry for weather-related moisture.
Also, if your driver leaves the truck and load to use the restroom, to have a bite to eat, or for any other reason—even for a couple of minutes—before jumping back in the truck he/she must inspect all trailer seals and door locks to ensure none have been tampered with.
It’s recommended the driver note on a separate In-Transit Load Inspection Sheet the time and location of each in-transit inspection and the findings of each.
Secure the truck and trailer at all times. Drivers must take a pro-active approach when it comes to securing their cargo. Wheel locks, alarms, and GPS trackers can play a vital role in preventing thieves from stealing cargo and avoiding cargo claims. Preventive measures, combined with practices such as never leaving a truck idling, will go a long way toward fending off criminals.
Add to this the careful selection of where the driver parks, whether to use a restroom, to take the HOS required 30-minute break, or 10-hour rest. Whether pulling into a rest area during the day or at night, drivers should always be aware of the area and their surroundings. Have your drivers park in well-lighted areas. Look around for anything suspicious, always be on guard, and if uncomfortable or unsure—leave. Drivers must learn to trust their gut instincts.
Drivers need to proceed like they’re hauling their grandma’s best china. Cargo claims and traffic accidents can result from cargo shifting due to panic stops, sharp turns or going around curves too fast. Avoid sudden movements that could cause cargo to shift or fall.
Be especially careful when cargo creates a high center of gravity or when cargo is susceptible to shifting (e.g., liquid tank trailers). These require extra precautions and reduced speeds around corners and curves.
Watch traffic and road conditions—from potholes to rough construction zones to weather. Insist your drivers take the necessary precautions to ensure not only their safety but that of the equipment and cargo.