Loading Safely

Failure to secure your load properly can cause injuries to yourself, other road users, pedestrians and other workers

A poorly-secured load can move under braking or cornering, affecting vehicle handling and increasing the risk of rollover. Loads that have moved in transit may have become unstable and can fall out when the vehicle is opened up for unloading.

Every year, people are injured and even killed by loads that have not been secured properly. Even if no one is hurt, letting the load move can damage both the load and the vehicle, and that can be expensive!


Who’s responsible?

Basically, drivers and anyone loading a vehicle must make sure that the load remains in a safe and stable condition at all times.

  • Loading and unloading should be subject to a risk assessment and carried out by trained staff.
  • Suitable vehicles and securing equipment should be used for every load carried.
  • Loads should be secured so they can’t move separately to the vehicle. Don’t just rely on the weight of the load.


Load Securing Equipment

The best means of securing a load will depend on the type and composition of the load to be carried.

Clamps, special bolts, steel wire ropes, chains, webbing harnesses, sheets, nets, ropes and storing bars are all suitable devices. It is, of course, essential to ensure that they are strong enough for the weight of the loads carried.

All equipment should be regularly inspected for wear or damage in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. Webbing and roping should be carefully inspected to ensure there’s no visible deterioration due to constant use.


30-second reminder

  • Check the weight, size and type of the load and make sure that vehicle is capable of carrying it.
  • Don’t forget that the way the vehicle handles will be affected by the size, type and weight of the load.
  • Have a final check of the load before moving off. Do the same whenever items are added or removed.
  • Loads can settle and shift during a journey causing lashings to slacken, so check at regular intervals – particularly after heavy braking or sudden changes of direction.
  • Make sure that you have clear and agreed safety procedures in place for loading and unloading vehicles.
  • Don’t overload the vehicle or its axles.
  • Don’t load the vehicle too high.
  • Don’t reduce the load on the steered axles by positioning the load too far back.
  • Never move the vehicle if any part of the load has not been restrained.
  • Don’t climb on to the vehicle or its load unless it’s essential and there is a safe means of access.

The Legal Low-down

Principal legislation covering load safety on the road is the Road Traffic Act (1991). The Health & Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Workplace (Health & Safety at Work) Regulations (1992) also play a part when it comes to the loading and unloading of vehicles.

Road Traffic Act (1991)

This states that: “A person is guilty of using a vehicle in a dangerous condition if he uses or causes or permits another to use a motor vehicle or trailer on a road when the purpose for which it is used, or the weight or position of its load, or the manner in which it is secured is such that the use of the motor vehicle or trailer involves a danger of injury to another person.”

Health & Safety at Work Act (1974) and Regulation 13 of the Workplace (Health & Safety at Work) Regulations (1992)

These pieces of legislation make clear the legal obligations on operators and others to ensure the safety of all persons involved in loading operations. There should be safe systems of work for loading, unloading, moving, sheeting and safe access on vehicles.


Getting Loaded

  • Before a vehicle is loaded it should be checked to ensure that its load platform, bodywork and anchorage points (and twist locks where fitted) are in a sound, serviceable condition.
  • When loading keep the load’s centre of gravity as low as possible. Large and heavier items should be placed towards the bottom and near to the centre line of the vehicle.
  • Heavy loads of small dimensions should be distributed across the vehicle platform using pallets or large wooden boards.
  • Remember, where part of the load is to be removed or another load collected in the course of the journey, the effect of the gross weight and axle weights must not be overlooked. So after any drop-offs, re-check the distribution of the remaining load.


Tie It Down

Anchorage points, which must be firmly attached to either the chassis or metal outrigger or crosspiece, should be used to anchor loads (not rope hooks, which is still a common mistake).

If possible, the load should be placed in contact with the headboard. If a gap has to be left, put something in the gap to stop the load sliding forward, such as empty pallets.


The Cost of Failure

During an average year there are around 4,000 successful prosecutions for unsafe loads. The maximum penalty for this offence if committed by a goods vehicle is a £5,000 fine, three driving licence penalty points which stays on a licence for 4 years and a disqualification

So, as well as the obvious safety implications, it pays to make sure you’ve got it right. And, of course, it might save the driver having to tell their boss that they’ve just spread a large number of TVs across two lanes of a busy roundabout!

The information on this page was produced with assistance and input from the Engineering Safety Unit of the Health & Safety Laboratory. You can find more in-depth information on load safety in the Department for Transport (DfT) ‘Safety of loads on vehicles’ Code of Practice which is available on the DfT’s website.