Injuries & Fatalities Involving Flatbed Trailers Expert Article

The flatbed segment of the trucking industry has a unique set of challenges and hazards that, if not properly managed, can lead to worker injuries or deaths. In this article, commercial trucking expert Brooks Rugemer discusses the hazards that exist in hauling and loading/unloading cargo from a flatbed truck, and provides examples of what can go wrong.

injuries fatalities flatbed trailer expert witness

Injuries & Fatalities Involving Flatbed Trailers

Between 1992 and 2003, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 63 deaths of workers involved in loading and unloading construction equipment from flatbed trailers. The CDC reports that over 30% of the 1,021 forklift related deaths involved pedestrian workers being crushed by falling cargo or crushed by the forklift operator during loading and unloading operations.

The challenges facing the flatbed segment begin with the very nature of the cargo that is typically shipped on a flatbed truck. Cargo such as lumber, poles, pipe, machinery, and construction equipment, etc. are often large, heavy, and irregularly shaped. It takes a high level of skill, caution, and proper training to safely load and unload these types of cargo.

Workers assisting with the cargo handling can be struck if the cargo is jostled and knocked from the trailer. During an investigation, the cargo handling practices in use at the time of the incident will be compared to accepted and recognized industry standards. The operation of equipment (forklifts, cranes, etc.) will be reviewed to determine if the equipment operator was properly trained and operating in a safe manner. In other instances, a forklift or crane knocks cargo off of the opposite side of the trailer and the cargo falls on workers. The same questions would apply here, over who was handling the cargo or operating the forklift/crane, and whether the applicable safety regulations were being followed.


forklift pvc pipe fall photo

In the photo above, a forklift knocked heavy PVC pipe from a trailer onto the truck driver on the opposite side of the trailer.

light pole flatbed trailer photo

Here, an unloader released the securement straps and a light pole rolled from the trailer, crushing a nearby worker.

Another formidable hazard for flatbed cargo loads is load instability. While the FMCSA has specific rules for load securement, cargo may still settle or shift during transit. When the load securement straps or chains are removed, workers in close proximity to the trailer are at risk of being struck by collapsing cargo. With a few exceptions, the truck driver is responsible for securing the load in or on his truck. Federal regulations require flatbed drivers to check their load securement at certain intervals during their trip and make adjustments if necessary. The regulations specify the amount and the type of load securement devices (chains, straps, etc.) that must be used for various types of cargo. If the cargo type is unwieldy, or the load has shifted during transit and is not secure, the driver/worker faces additional hazards.

flatbed unsecured load photo

A facility may require a flatbed delivery driver to climb onto his load to assist with loading/unloading, or to install or remove a tarp. In general, places where truckers pick up and deliver cargo are identified by OSHA as “general industry” locations that require fall protection to be provided for all workers, invited workers included, when they are required to work above 4 feet off the ground. A fall from over 13 feet, as depicted below, can result in debilitating injuries or death.

flatbed unloading height safety photo

Trucking Investigations

The experts in the Trucking Operations Group at Robson Forensic have decades of experience in the trucking/transportation industry, in long haul trucking, LTL trucking, as well as non-CDL commercial transport. All are former CDL licensed drivers who moved into the safety and compliance departments, and became safety managers and safety directors for Motor Carriers all across the country. These experts use their countless miles of driving experience and management/oversight work to examine every facet of a trucking incident investigation.

For more information, contact the author of this article or submit an inquiry.

Featured Expert

Brooks Rugemer, Commercial Trucking Expert

Brooks Rugemer

Commercial Trucking Expert
Brooks is an experienced Transportation Manager specializing in trucking, warehousing, intermodal, and logistics related claims. After 13 years and 1.4 million miles as a CDL tractor trailer driver,… read more.


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