But if one or two break loose in a tight turn or hard stop and the load shifts and falls off the trailer, they - and your company - will be wishing they had slowed down long enough to take a closer look at those securement devices.
Tie-downs need maintenance like anything else, and there are proper ways to inspect, use and store them, according to the Web, Sling and Tie Down Association. Its publication, "Recommended Standard Specification for Synthetic Web Tie-Downs," deals with straps. The recommendations cover testing, labeling and selection of web tie-downs, which we won't get into here. The association's recommendations are so solid that government authorities picked them up in their rewrite of federal tie-down standards in 2004.
Chains are a whole 'nother subject, but the old warning about "the weakest link" is absolutely true. You need to watch for twisted, stretched and elongated links, wear to and chinks in surfaces of links and hooks, and balky or broken ratcheting mechanisms. It's common sense to store this equipment in a dry place. Hanging chains on headboards is OK because they'll shed rain and ice, and dry out when the sun resumes shining. Not so with leaky toolboxes, which retain water unless drainage is positive. Remember, rust never sleeps.
Synthetic-fabric straps also find homes in toolboxes, and although they don't rust, they can pick up mildew and other growths that don't do them any good. It's better to store these things in leak-resistant boxes to keep them dry and protected from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. Also, keep straps away from grease; if there's grease on the trailer's floor, try to clean it up. These and other points are in Chapter 4 of the WSTDA publication.
The life and strength of straps are also affected by how they're used, so Chapter 4 also gets into that. Here are some of the points:
• Employ web straps properly, within their rated working capacities, and use enough for the job. Remember that angles between the load and the attachment point affect how many pounds are placed on a strap. Federal tie-down standards dictate how many straps should be used on given loads and how they should be attached to the truck.
• Watch how you drape straps over the load. Unless you enjoy buying new ones often, avoid stringing straps over sharp edges, corners and the like. If those things can't be avoided, use cushions of wood, fabric, rubber, etc., to protect straps and the load.
• Certain cargoes are specifically addressed by federal tie-down standards. These include massive metal coils, which must be blocked and braced as well as tied down. There are 12 other commodities covered, including boulders, flattened or crushed vehicles, roll-off and intermodal containers, concrete pipe, paper rolls, and logs.
• Use care in removing straps. Don't pull them out from under loads; this will fray and cut them. Roll up each strap as you remove it so it stays out of dirt and water. This will extend its life.
• Avoid using damaged straps. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, whose member agencies employ many of the official inspectors who check your vehicle and its loads, allows limited cuts and abrasions. If you want to stay legal, know those descriptions and dimensions. If you want to stay really safe, replace a strap as soon as it's damaged, because there's no way to know how much strength the strap has lost because of that damage. Trying to mend a broken strap by tying it together is neither safe nor allowed, no matter how strong your Boy Scout or Navy knots might be.
• Tie-down straps are not suitable for lifting, lowering or suspending cargo, or for towing. There are other products made for those activities.
If you're a driver, learn all you can about tie-down equipment and the rules that govern it. If you're a manager, take time to train your drivers in how to use the equipment. Some states might require you to do this.
Alabama, for example, just adopted regulations mandating certain numbers of hours of training on load securement, as well as stricter penalties for lost loads. They were inspired by a string of accidents where steel coils fell off trailers, punching holes in overpasses. Luckily, no one was killed - but they easily could have been.
Woe to the company whose lost load kills a motorist because they neglected basic tie-down inspections and maintenance.
From the May 2009 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.