Tips to Safely Haul Heavy Equipment
Hauling heavy equipment from one worksite to another is just part of the job. Most machines are simply not capable of getting there on their own – at least, not within any useful timeframe. But the very bulk and weight of big equipment such as excavators, conveyors, and crushers can make hauling a dangerous proposition. Safety must always be Priority #1, to protect drivers, trucks, and trailers as well as that expensive payload.
Right trailer, right load
Just because a trailer is big enough to carry a particular machine does not mean it is strong enough. And if it isn’t, you’re setting yourself up for potential accidents and injuries, not to mention premature wear and possible structural failure of the trailer itself. Hauling safety starts with choosing the right trailer for the job.
For example, suppose you have a 50-ton rated lowbed trailer that is 26 feet long. But is that entire length rated for 50 tons? Or has the manufacturer specified that rating for just half the length? Or some specific footage? Load concentration is critical to determine actual capacity. Also, states typically regulate kingpin-to-axle distance, and they have differing laws about travel over bridges, etc.
All these factors affect trailer choice, but they are not the only ones.
Each trailer has a safety rating. That also speaks to its load capacity because it identifies the amount of stress the trailer can handle safely. Stress is cause by over-the-road conditions that jar the trailer and load, such as hitting potholes, crossing railroad tracks, driving off-road or over bumps or generally uneven terrain. Up-and-down jarring effectively increases the weight of your payload, at a ratio of about 1.8:1. That means your 50-ton trailer with a 50-ton load is actually experiencing what amounts to a 90-ton load. Not safe.
Plus, that 1.8:1 ratio is not necessarily accurate for your trailer, because each manufacturer uses their own formula to determine safety ratings. So your trailer’s rating could be anywhere from 1 to 2.5. However, a higher ratio is not an excuse to overload your trailer – not if you expect to haul safely. You could do that, but over time you are asking more of your trailer than it was designed to handle. In fact, even of your trailer is not technically overloaded, you’re still exceeding load capacity every time you hit one of those stress-producing road issues.
Even steel will break if it is over-stressed repeatedly. Experts liken it to stretching a rubber band over and over again. Eventually it snaps. Your trailer could “snap” at any time, on the road or off, causing an expensive accident and even serious injuries. At best, you’ll need to replace that trailer sooner than you had planned.
Matching the trailer with the load and vigilant preventive maintenance ensure you are hauling heavy equipment safely.
Never skimp on pre-trip inspection
As you do with all your equipment, checking out your trailer before you head out is essential. Do it every time. Start with a walk-around visual inspection:
- Look for chafing on the hydraulic hoses. Constant rubbing will lead to rupture, causing the hose to leak or fail completely.
- Look for visible signs of damage on tie-down equipment, including chains, straps, and binders. Double-check to be sure they are all properly rated for your load. (Consult the sticker on the machine to find its ratings.)
- Eyeball the trailer to be sure it sits level, rather than tilting to one side or sagging. These problems will be exacerbated once the trailer is loaded.
Then do a functional inspection:
- Check the brakes.
- Check tire pressure to be sure each one is properly inflated. Even a small difference over or under the recommended psi will undermine the tire’s load rating, putting additional stress on the trailer. Besides, the last think you want while underway is a blowout. Look at the trailer’s VIN tag to find proper tire size, ply, psi, and load rating.
Now you’re ready to roll.
You can get the full details about inspection in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Driver-Vehicle Inspection Report, or refer directly to part 396 to learn more about conducting pre-trip inspections. Motor Carrier Safety Compliance also offers a 35-page comprehensive guide for pre-trip inspections.
But wait, there’s more
Hauling speed affects safety, too. Trailers come with a speed rating – typically 55 or 65 mph – but the faster you go the more stress you’re putting on your trailer. For safe hauling, be sure to use a trailer that can perform comfortably at your hauling truck’s usual driving speed.