Obeying the rules of safe hauling and dumping

You have probably witnessed something falling off a truck. Maybe you have had a piece of gravel fly off an untarped dump truck and crack your windshield. Maybe you have seen a large balled-and-burlapped (B&B) tree roll off a flatbed as it turned the corner. These examples illustrate the most common problems in hauling landscape materials: proper loading and securing.

However, even a properly loaded and secured truck can be damaged, or cause damage, if it is overweight. And dumping on unstable ground can cause tipping accidents. Each and every step in the hauling process--loading, securing, covering, transporting, unloading and returning to the yard--poses some risk. Landscape professionals in charge of transporting materials and equipment need to understand these risks.

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Mixed bag The landscape industry is amazing in the diversity of materials it uses. The types of products landscaping crews haul can run the gamut, from dirt and compost to plants, water, wood, salt and pavers. Additionally, the unique range of products one landscape company might haul can be quite different from another company's loads. A firm specializing in landscape construction might haul bricks, stone, timbers, sand and soil. A company that performs mostly landscape maintenance might haul only grass clippings and leaves--yet that same company might then compost green waste and haul it out again as a product. The array of landscape materials, and the need for their transport, goes on and on. Each material has its own set of loading and handling demands; concrete-wall-system stones require much different treatment than clippings.

In general, you can divide materials into three categories: bulk, bagged and palletized. Bulk materials include mulch, dirt, aggregates such as sand and gravel, clippings, leaves, snow, construction debris and B&B plants. Bagged commodities include grass seed, fertilizers, pesticides, soil, compost and aggregates. Palletized materials include sod, bagged materials, concrete-wall-system stones, pavers, lumber, timbers, fencing and other hardscape items.

Loading up When loading bulk shipments, one of the toughest problems is gauging the weight of the load.

When estimating the total weight of a shipment, you must carefully consider the moisture content of bulk materials. The total weight of a yard of mulch, soil and sand can increase up to 30 percent with added moisture. A large moisture content can wreak havoc on hauling operations.

As with any landscape task, loading or unloading bulk, bagged or palletized materials requires the proper equipment. A skidsteer or front-end loader with a bucket is suitable for loading bulk materials. A forklift or front-end loader or skidsteer with a fork attachment works best with palletized and bagged material as well as equipment. Be sure to choose the right loading equipment based on the type of material and its weight, including the amount of moisture it contains. A pallet of sod, for instance, weighs 1,800 to 3,500 pounds, depending on its moisture content, the type of soil in which it was grown, and the number of yards on a pallet. Most small skidsteers or tractor loaders can handle an 1,800-pound load of dry sod. But if you get a really heavy, wet pallet of sod raised high enough, it could cause a skidsteer to tip forward.

Make sure personnel are well-trained in skidsteer, front-end loader or forklift operation. Also, make sure skidsteer/front-end loader operators distribute the bulk materials evenly on the truck bed. Skidsteer buckets are dumped blindly; when the bucket is in the raised position, the operator can't see where he or she is placing the material. To ensure you distribute bulk materials equally, the driver should double check the load and make any necessary adjustments.

Special crews Our company uses specialized crews for loading. These crews do nothing but load and unload trucks and trailers at each of our branch sites. Using specialized crews gives us several benefits. It ensures that the employees loading the vehicles have experience with various materials and mixed loads, which can be tricky to place properly on a truck or trailer. Loading-crew members get intensive on-site training and are closely supervised by a load-crew foreman. Specialized crews also are less likely to "cut corners" than fatigued maintenance or construction crews.

Maintenance- or construction-crew members might be in a hurry at the end or beginning of a day and might not load the truck as carefully as a dedicated crew.

Each of our loading crews has a foreman, and a supervisor oversees all loading operations in the yards. The crew loads each truck using a list created by the supervisor detailing the material or product and quantity. The foreman then ensures the trucks are properly loaded andsecured. The first place to guarantee an out-going load is safe is in your own yard.

Keep it on Securing products and materials on the truck is paramount. The type of product will determine the way it should be secured. A pallet of sod is completely different than a pallet of salt or fertilizer or a bulk load. One method we regularly use to stabilize pallets and bagged products is shrink-wrap.

We shrink-wrap individual pallets, then tie them down with 2-inch fabric cargo straps tightened with a ratcheting mechanism. Cargo straps range in ratings from 2,000 to 10,000 pounds, and we can use the straps to tie down lighter products, as well.

Keep on tarpin' It is best to cover all truck beds containing bulk materials with a tarp. Tarping a truck can be time consuming, which is why it is not routinely done in the industry. However, to streamline tarping, many dump trucks have tarpaulins bolted on top of the bulkhead (or cab guard) of the dump body.

A board on the back edge of the tarp allows easy one-person rolling and unrolling. Some automatic systems use awning-like arms that electrically unfold the tarp. Make sure you secure tarpaulins on all sides using rope or bungee cords. This procedure is easier if your truck has permanent hooks spaced every 2 feet or has tie-down rails along the sides of the bed. All of the trucks in our fleet were specially fitted with these hooks (or rails) welded on the sides and back.

Standard dump or flatbeds don't always come with them. Truck-equipment manufacturers can customize your truck to your specifications; have them add tie-down rails or hooks, grab handles and steps. Grab handles and steps, especially, can minimize injuries that can occur when tarping.

Tarps come in many forms and fabrics. Polyvinyl tarps are good for simply holding materials in the bed. Canvas tarps keep moisture out of bulk materials during transport. Woven fabric tarps allow plants or decomposing materials like grass clippings to breathe (thus not "cooking" them) while still holding them down during transport.

Laws concerning tarps vary from state to state. Some states mandate that you cover all loads, others do not. Our company policy is to tarp every load.

Should a motorist ever complain that a stone from one of your trucks hit his or her windshield, documentation is key. In this case, it is important for the fleet dispatcher to know the route of the truck and what product it was carrying. One complaint we received about a stone-in-the-windshield referred to a truck that was documented as carrying tarped mulch.

Pick a truck Safe hauling depends not only on proper loading and securing but also on using the proper truck. In the green industry, landscape operations might use a wide range of equipment--ranging from small pickup trucks to flatbed trailers up to semi-trailer truck combinations that can haul up to 80,000 pounds. Some companies, like ours, use a roll-off system, which allows the truck beds to be changed by crews to haul different products, including bulk material, palletized material and liquid-fertilizer tanks. Some trucks have mounted cranes to lift off loads. Choose the truck to match the capacity and weight your products require. Decide how much you will be carrying on the truck, and match the vehicle with what will be carried. Does the job need 40 yards of mulch directly transported, or can you have 10 yards carried in four shipments, knowing that one or two loads might end up sitting on the truck?

On occasion, our company will fill one truck and split the load between two job sites. Other times, we have suppliers deliver material directly. Some suppliers will make drop shipments, splitting a load between two different job sites for a nominal fee. Remember, the main goal with any trucking operation is to be efficient. Having a supplier deliver and unload a product might be the most efficient means. A supplier that delivers a specialized product will be able to handle that product more efficiently than your crew, because the supplier's crew is experienced and has the right equipment to unload it safely.

Side by side Ninety percent of our construction trucks are flatbeds with stake sides that are partitioned into 3- to 4-foot sections. With this configuration, one person can lift out the sides to load or unload. We have found that rather than using a rigid-metal-side dump truck, a stake-side truck allows us to take material on and off the truck quickly from the side. A rigid-side dump truck only allows unloading from the rear. Also, most rigid-side dump beds are about 8 feet or longer, whereas a forklift can only reach in 4 feet. With a stake-side bed or fold-down sides, forklifts can access all areas of the bed when loading pallets or equipment.

Bed time A major factor in safely loading a truck is the size of the bed, which is matched to the gross vehicle weight of the chassis. The need for large quantities of light bulky material such as mulch and grass clippings results in most landscape companies buying oversized truck bodies. However, when employees load soil, sand or gravel into the same truck, it is easy to overload--that one extra bucket of material can weigh a ton or more. An inexperienced driver could take that overloaded truck and cause an accident or do serious damage to the vehicle if the axle breaks or a tire blows as a result of being overloaded. An overloaded truck will cost your company sooner or later in repairs, because every component of that vehicle is affected. Sometimes, trucks work fine overloaded, but then the state or local police will get you when they weigh the truck at the weigh station or surprise you with a portable scale.

At D.R. Church Landscape Co., we have calculated the legal weight limits of the primary material a truck will carry based on the depth of the material evenly distributed in the bed. We estimate the weight using the amount and type of material, then determine how high the truck sides should be to hold that depth of material (see table, at left). To verify our calculations and check the weight, we randomly weigh trucks on certified scales for a nominal cost. Using a truck's side height as a loading guideline makes it easy to estimate the weight limit in the yard; however, it requires you to know the exact moisture content and capabilities of the truck.

Dumping carefully After you load and safely drive your truck, you must unload the products. Because you'll dump most bulk materials off the truck, keeping the truck on level ground is important. Thousands of pounds are being transferred during a dump, and if all wheels are not stable, the possibility of tipping exists. Construction or off-road sites always pose this danger. A wheel might look stable, but when the bed rises during a dump and the weight shifts, this concentrates the weight on the rear axle. If one of the rear wheels is on a soft spot, this can tilt the truck sideways. Additionally, backing up a truck can be dangerous. Our company requires a spotter (when available) to assist the truck operator when backing up or dumping.

Remember that safe hauling and dumping will not only result in lower insurance premiums and little or no claims costs, but also in a good reputation. Your company's name is on your truck. Having something fall off your truck in the middle of a busy intersection makes bad public relations. Think of all the advertising money you spend, then think of the number of people who might directly witness a hauling or dumping accident. Think of the employees who could be killed or injured. Keep on trucking--loading, hauling and unloading--safely.

Steve Koschak is superintendent of installation for D.R. Church Landscape Co. Inc. (Lombard, Ill.).

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