Safely transporting equipment/materials

Operating trucks or truck-trailer combinations loaded with landscaping equipment and materials involves many potential hazards for crew members and those with whom they share the road. Overloading or neglecting to properly secure equipment, materials and plants in a pickup bed or trailer can result in serious injuries and even fatalities. Landscape companies can be held liable in court, and drivers can face criminal negligence charges.

The guidance below can help managers and crew members improve safety, lower insurance premiums, prevent lawsuits and preserve their company’s reputation.

Checklist for Supervisors

  • Adhere to highway safety regulations. If the weight of a pickup truck, trailer, and load exceeds 10,000 pounds, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration considers it a commercial motor vehicle and your company must comply with the associated regulations. These include having U.S. Department of Transportation markings on the truck and stopping at roadside inspection stations. The driver must have a copy of a medical examiner’s certificate stating he/she is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle. Follow state and local regulations as well.

  • Be aware many towing regulations are governed by state vehicle codes. These codes vary widely. Make sure you know and follow the requirements for all states in which your trucks and trailers operate.

  • Choose the right trucks and trailers for your company’s applications. Take into account the types and quantities of materials you’ll carry and your company’s loading/unloading methods. Choices in the landscape industry range from small pickup trucks to truck/trailer combinations that can haul up to 80,000 pounds. Roll-off systems, which allow truck beds to be changed to transport different items, and stake-side beds, which can offer side loading/unloading, are popular with some companies.

  • If your company uses roll-off trucks or trailers, train crew members to operate them. You must teach employees to use the particular models they will be operating and make sure they understand all safety guidelines.

  • Consider adding truck/trailer customizations that will improve safety. For instance, tarps should be secured on all sides, and this is much easier to do if your trucks and trailers have permanent hooks spaced appropriately or tie-down rails. Equipment manufacturers can add these as well as grab handles and steps, which can prevent injuries.

  • Pick the best equipment and material-securement products for your operations. Provide proper load-rated devices such as chains and straps with ratchet load binders for use in securing equipment. Many types of tarp fabric are available, from polyvinyl to woven cloth. Some companies prefer flow-through tarps, which allow air to flow through the fabric and reduce the wind flapping that can cause tarps to rip, come loose or blow off. Bagged products and pallets of material can be stabilized with shrink wrap and tied down with straps tightened with a ratcheting mechanism.

  • Provide equipment for loading/unloading and material handling. For handling bulk materials, this could be a skid-steer loader or front-end loader with a bucket. For material on pallets or in bags, a forklift, front-end loader or skid-steer loader with a fork attachment might be appropriate. Equipment that has the ability to reach to the middle of the truck bed or trailer is best. If your company is small and can’t justify purchasing loading/unloading equipment because it doesn’t often perform jobs in which it would be used, rent the equipment when it’s needed.

  • Remember moisture content in materials affects their weight. This impacts gross vehicle weights and loading/unloading equipment. For example, a skid-steer or tractor loader that can handle a pallet of dry sod could tip forward when raising a pallet of wet sod.

  • If your company transports liquid loads, consider using tanks with baffles. This is helpful when multiple types of materials are being hauled.

  • Provide barriers such as plywood or 2x6s to box in bulk material in truck beds or on trailersThis is helpful when multiple types of materials are being hauled.

  • Create a written policy regarding properly loading/unloading, securing and covering (if applicable) equipment and materials on trucks and trailers. Make this part of your company’s overall safety program, and ensure every employee involved in these processes receives a copy. Train employees to follow these procedures and hold them accountable by making adherence to the policy part of their performance evaluations.

  • Ensure employees cover with a tarp all loads containing landscape materials. Laws regarding tarping vary from state to state (check with your state DOT to learn your state rules), with some requiring tarps for all loads and others not. Even if a tarp isn’t required, covering every load is a good idea.

  • Ensure your company’s trucks and trailers do not exceed gross vehicle weight limitsThis creates numerous safety hazards and can lead to significant fines. In addition to the immediate safety concerns, repeated overloading causes excessive wear and tear to multiple truck/trailer components. An axle could break, studs holding tires on could crack, etc., causing accidents.

  • Know that overloading is particularly easy to do in our industry. This is because the need for large quantities of light bulk material such as mulch often leads companies to spec oversized truck beds, and people tend to think it’s okay to load a bed until it’s physically full. While this might be fine when the material is grass clippings, it could spell disaster when crew members load the same truck with soil or sand.

  • Make sure crew members know how to calculate the weight of the materials your company hauls. They should understand how to estimate material weight based on moisture content (which can increase weight up to 30 percent). Correlations between yardage and pounds can be found on the Internet. Some things you can do to help employees with this include: providing information on the weights of each bucketful (based on the machines/buckets your company uses for loading) or wheelbarrow full of the types of material your company typically hauls and how many buckets full or wheelbarrows full of material can be put in particular truck beds or on specific trailers; and calculating the heights on truck beds and trailer sides to which various bulk materials can be loaded if they are evenly distributed. Remember, this requires knowing material weight, moisture content and truck/trailer capabilities, and you should regularly verify your calculations using certified scales.

  • Randomly observe/inspect each crew’s equipment- and material-transport practices on at least a monthly basis. Take seriously and follow up on any complaints regarding the ways in which your company transports materials.

Employee Dos and Don'ts:

  • Follow your company’s policies for transporting equipment and materials. This includes properly placing equipment/materials on trucks and trailers and securing, covering and unloading them.

  • Know your responsibilities under the law. If the combined weight of the truck, trailer and load exceeds 10,000 pounds, the driver must stop at roadside inspection stations and be able to present a copy of a medical examiner’s certificate stating the driver is physically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.

  • Make gross vehicle weight and cargo security your business. If you will be driving a vehicle, know the weight of the truck, trailer and cargo, and inspect the way equipment, materials and plants are secured before you get behind the wheel. As the driver, you are responsible for cargo securement and staying within weight limits, even if you didn’t load the truck or trailer. If an accident occurs and the vehicle/trailer were overloaded or items weren’t properly secured, you could face criminal negligence charges.

  • Know weight limitations and how to calculate the weight of equipment and materials being transported. Taking into account the moisture content of materials is important. Check the truck’s owner’s manual for gross vehicle weight ratings.

  • Secure items for every trip, no matter the distance. Neglecting to tie down equipment or secure materials during short trips is one of the most common mistakes landscape crews make.

  • Use the correct trailer hitch and ensure the trailer is properly connected to the towing vehicle. Also make sure safety chains are in place.

  • Inspect all truck and trailer lights before every trip. Do not travel until defective bulbs have been replaced. Also check the trailer light hook-up socket for loose wires or corrosion.

  • Check the pressure and wear of all truck and trailer tires before each trip. Check lug nuts on all tires to make sure they are tight and damage free.

  • Inspect all load-securement devices such as chains and straps prior to use.

  • Ensure loads are properly distributed and balanced in truck beds and on trailers. With trailers, place heavier cargo toward the front, ahead of the axle, and center it left-to-right. With trucks, place heavier materials as far forward as possible and center it side-to-side. An unbalanced load can cause a trailer to sway, possibly resulting in a traffic accident.

  • Use chains or straps with ratchet load binders to secure equipment.

  • Secure plant pallets or flats to the bed of the truck or trailer using tie-down straps or other appropriate devices. If you’re transporting small trees or tree saplings, secure them in an upright position.

  • When stacking materials, put the heaviest items at the bottom.

  • Cover materials such as mulch, planting bed rocks and yard debris with tarps. This can prevent objects from flying out and striking vehicles behind you.

  • Keep trailer decks free of dirt, oil and debris.

  • Before loading or unloading a truck or trailer, ensure the parking brake is set and the wheels are chocked.

  • Only load or unload trucks and trailers in clear, open areas with good visibility. Be aware of your surroundings since multiple people will likely be doing this in a confined space. Operate equipment such as riding mowers slowly (set mowers at half throttle) and be alert to co-workers who might be loading/unloading smaller equipment.

  • Use equipment such as skid-steer loaders and devices such as wheelbarrows and hand trucks as much as possible. Using these machines and tools for loading/unloading materials from trucks and trailers and transporting materials at jobsites can prevent musculoskeletal injuries. Work with fellow crew members when loading or unloading manually. One person should hand down items to another standing on the ground.


  • Exceed the gross combination weight rating of the trailer. This limit should be stated on the trailer or in its operator’s manual. If you’re unsure, ask your employer or supervisor.

  • Create blind spots for the driver with the positioning of cargo.

  • Neglect to tie down fuel containers or tools such as rakes, shovels, hoes, picks, ladders, etc.

  • Tow a trailer with a vehicle not properly rated for the job. Check the truck’s owner’s manual for the maximum weights allowed.

  • Load a truck or trailer to the point it’s physically full, regardless of weight. Just because material fits in a truck or on a trailer doesn’t mean it should be there. Know gross vehicle weight ratings and don’t exceed them.

  • Be hasty when securing tarps. Tarps should be secured on the front and back and both sides. Secure mounted tarps in at least three places on both sides. Secure tarps that aren’t mounted in the front and back and at least three places on both sides.

  • Leave truck or trailer gates down. Make sure they are properly latched.

  • Dump material from a truck or trailer that isn’t on level, stable ground. When a bed rises during a dump, weight is concentrated on the rear axle, and this can cause the truck or trailer to tilt or tip.

  • Refuel equipment while it’s on a trailer or carry fuel cans with you. Plan your work so this isn’t necessary, if possible. If you do fuel equipment while you’re transporting it, don’t stretch the hose across other equipment, ensure all machines are cool and use extreme caution.

  • Jump out of truck beds or trailers. Use steps and handholds where they are available. Where they aren’t, sit on the lowest edge, then lower yourself carefully to the ground.