A big deal: Transporting heavy cargo safely and securely

Canadian fleets are no strangers to heavy weights, whether cargo is supported by the multiple axles of a Michigan combination or travels under special permits alone.

The challenge is that big loads can also lead to big losses.

Many related problems involve the cargo securement devices that should hold everything in place. Even if there are enough chains to deliver a required Aggregate Working Load Limit, each device must be properly attached. Put one chain in the wrong location and the underlying cargo can begin to shift, leading to everything from citations for an improperly secured load to an insurance claim for damaged freight. The moving chains around a load of heavy equipment might crush hydraulic cylinders or hoses. Even a chafing strap or billowing tarp can scuff paints and coatings.

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Proper load securement procedures are clearly defined in National Safety Code 10, which outlines the methods that should be used on everything from metal coils to concrete pipe, boulders, heavy vehicles and machinery.

The skills of the driver behind the wheel are equally as important.

Larger loads affect vehicle dynamics such as stopping distances and acceleration, and an unusually high centre of gravity can pull a trailer onto its side during an overly tight and fast turn. Longer loads introduce yet another challenge since they can encroach on adjacent highway lanes, even when following a gradual curve. It’s why the drivers at the wheel of such loads need to be particularly aware of their surroundings.

But the additional skills are not limited to the truck cab. A driver’s mechanical aptitude will be tested through work with dollies, deciding how loads need to be situated to comply with permit requirements, and recognizing opportunities to lift axles to enhance a turning radius. There may even be extra components to check, such as the hydraulic lines and cylinders which support the controls for the steering axle at the back of a trailer.

The importance of mechanical aptitude does not end there. Drivers responsible for this cargo will often head to remote locations, perhaps delivering something like a large generator to the northern reaches of a province. They might be stranded on a bush road for an extended period of time unless they can fix a hose fitting, or know how to work with the tow hooks and pintle pins that can be used to pull a vehicle free.

Unlike those who ship goods from pin to pin, and can stand in the shelter of a loading dock, those drivers who work with oversized loads can expect to spend more time exposed to the weather as well. The need for Personal Protective Equipment will extend to include insulated coveralls and boots that will protect drivers from the elements during loading and unloading.

Trip planning is certainly more complex in every journey. The drivers of these trucks and their pilot vehicles need to maintain an open line of communication, leaving no question about routes that are banned, or bridges and overpasses that are too low.

Indeed, every step along the way is a big deal.