Truck Loading Safety Tips
October 18, 2022
Tow truck safety should be a priority for towing operators across the U.S. Motor vehicle incidents and contact with equipment are the two leading causes of non-fatal injuries and deaths. In 2019, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted one of the first national studies about the towing industry, often left out of first responder safety studies. NIOSH found that the towing industry has 15 times more deaths than all U.S. private industries combined.
This statistic makes truck loading safety a priority for Jeff Poquette, Heavy Duty Operations Director at Southside Wrecker Service, and his staff. Poquette started towing when he was 18 and after coming to Southside Wrecker Service in 2003, he and a friend Bart Lundy purchased the company five years later.
Poquette, a member of ERSCA, and a WreckMaster 67/A, holds many certifications in light and heavy-duty recovery work. Each lesson is vital to understanding safety, resistance, and weight classes that teach you to work much safer.
Here’s what he had to say about tow truck loading safety—and how every tower needs to join their state association to have their voice heard.
Tow Truck Loading Tips
As a tow truck operator, it’s important to be educated and have proper loading and unloading procedures. At his company, Poquette has an in-house training program that includes the mechanics of towing and how to stay safe roadside.
It’s not only about caring for your employees and their safety but also their families, he said. “Anything you could do to increase your chances of coming home that night.”
Safety starts as soon as you exit the truck, said Poquette.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Park properly as far out of the travel lane as possible and before exiting the tow truck, watch for traffic.
- Use a three-point exit. You need three contact points as you go in and out of your tow truck. Face the truck as you exit in case you fall. You don’t want to fall into a travel lane.
- Exit on the non-traffic side of the truck. Slide across your front seat and go out the passenger door.
- Use your tow truck safety tool kit. Put on your ANSI 3 yellow vest before interacting with the customer. Replace your ANSI 3 yellow vest if it’s starting to look dirty and the reflective material has worn out.
- Add cameras to your truck. Add front- and rear-facing cameras to your tow truck just in case something goes wrong and there’s video evidence.
- Add a wearable safety light to your safety tool kit. Grab it before exiting the tow truck and wear it. Most LED wearables provide over three miles of visibility.
When loading a flatbed trailer, following truck loading safety protocols is vital. First, ask the customer to sit in your tow truck. This removes them from harm’s way and allows you to work without distractions.
“You have to watch not only the officer on the scene but also the customer, and you gotta keep track of them. I don’t like distractions while I’m working on the side of the road. It’s a lot safer in my truck,” said Poquette. “[I tell them] please put your seatbelt on, have fun, choose your own radio station, whatever you want.”
Common Loading And Unloading Mistakes Operators Make
Equipment failures can lead to severe but non-fatal injuries to you as a towing operator and your customer. Poquette suspects that 90 percent of flatbeds are going down the road with inadequate securement—just the chain in the back and the winch cable in the front.
However, you’re supposed to have a four-point tie-down. This is why tow truck training and certifications are vital to staying safe during roadside work.
Inadequate tie-downs can lead to accidents and other incidents. “You’ve got that tension there. But as you hit bumps and everything, the car can find its own center. Now that chain is gonna go loose behind you. There’s no way to keep all of it tight at the same time,” said Poquette.
Unfortunately, tie-down requirements vary from state to state, and there’s a lack of enforcement. “Things break—chains, cables, etc. It’s not even that the operator may have done something wrong,” he said. It’s important to inspect your equipment often—here’s a tow truck equipment checklist.
Other Tow Truck Loading Safety Tips
Poquette recounts a story about a tow operator loading a vehicle on the flatbed and a police cruiser parked behind him. The vehicle slid off the bed and hit the cop car, only a few feet from where the police officer was standing.
You may not want to speak up while loading the vehicle, but keeping everyone safe is important. “We have to start operating on the same level they’re operating on and become peers instead of them looking down on us and telling us what to do when they have no training in what we do,” said Poquette.
Be professional when you address the emergency responder, share why their action is not safe, and let them know what to do as you have the specialized training.
- Use the controllers on the side away from the road to stay safe from incoming traffic
- Wear your ANSI 3 yellow vest with sleeves and full reflective material
- Always carry heavy-duty gloves in your tow truck to protect your hands from sharp edges and fluids
- Don’t get behind the vehicle while you’re loading it, and keep anyone else from standing there, including police officers
- After loading, don’t drive down the road with your amber lights on. Poquette shares that it can desensitize people to amber lights and what they mean.
“Be a professional, do all you can to be safe. Look good and wear that clean vest,” said Poquette.
Stay Safe And Get Involved
Poquette always encourages people to join their state towing association and get involved.
“I see so many towers online complaining about things and they’re not even a part of their state association. You’re not going to get anything done. You’re not gonna move us forward by yelling at people on Facebook,” he said.
For operators in the industry, whether new or veterans, start getting involved in your state towing association, pay your dues, and network to create positive change in the industry.
Joining an association also helps you find solidarity with other towers and increase your networking opportunities. It’s also a way to stay on top of the latest regulations in tow truck safety, tow truck training classes, and the loading and unloading trucks procedure.
Associations need increased participation and funds to move the needle with legislation by hiring lobbyists. Higher participation and funding can help push changes to the move over law to include towing operators as emergency roadside staff since there’s power in numbers.
“Forget your competitors for a minute and start looking at them as allies and work with them to make positive change,” said Poquette.