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Tying Up Loose Ends

QUEBEC CITY, Que. - On Jan. 1, Canada adopts North American cargo security rules to govern the way loads must be fastened to trailers - a year after similar regulations were introduced in the U.S.

QUEBEC CITY, Que. – On Jan. 1, Canada adopts North American cargo security rules to govern the way loads must be fastened to trailers – a year after similar regulations were introduced in the U.S.

But even though each country’s rules will be based on the same research that began in 1993, were drafted by the collective work of 160 government and industry experts, and use much of the same language, fleets could face different enforcement practices on opposite sides of the border.

It all comes down to a matter of interpretations.

As Canadian officials prepared to introduce the rules Jan. 1, they were still grappling with many clarifications that were recently unveiled by their American counterparts. (A few Canadian-made requirements are also expected.)

Ultimately, standards are designed to ensure cargo remains in place up to and short of a crash, said Larry Minor of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). But there’s even a question of how strong load security systems have to be in the first place.

Working Load Limits for cargo security systems have to be greater than the forces applied during normal operating conditions. That ensures nothing will snap during a sudden move of the truck.

U.S. officers suggest these normal operating conditions include forces of 0.4 g in a forward direction and 0.25 g from side to side. (A typical stop on a dry road would produce less than 0.6 g of force in a forward direction.) Canadian officials, meanwhile, want to ensure that the systems can withstand forces of 0.8 g forward and 0.5 g to the sides.

Another clarification recently introduced by the FMCSA involves an approach to attaching tie- downs that has become known as the DOT Wrap. The regulations suggest that straps need to be kept inside rub rails “whenever practicable,” so enforcement officials – particularly those in New York State – began to issue tickets whenever straps were found outside a rail. In response, the U.S. Department of Transportation decided to allow fleets to attach flat hooks to rub rails, as long as the straps wrap around them.

Such clarifications can be tricky in Canada. While the majority of states have automatically adopted the FMCSA’s clarification, Transport Canada doesn’t have the power to apply its interpretations across the country, said John Pearson, program director for the Council of Ministers and Deputy Ministers. Instead, each province has its own rules for load security, and many of those include additional standards such as requirements for tarps on dump trucks, and province-specific fines.

As this edition went to press, Pearson was hoping provinces would simply refer to the national document whenever the rules applied.

Meanwhile, Canadian officials have been balking at some of the U.S. interpretations. Scrapped cars that are transported south of the border may require fewer restraints if they’re crushed to the point that they’re “processed more like a fused log of metal,” Pearson said. But Canadian officials have been considering a recommendation to allow scrapped cars to be loaded from end to end, with the roofs of flipped cars sitting in the wells created by the hoods and trunks of the cars below – much like the way bricks are staggered in a wall.

By 2010, Canada also plans to insist on tie-downs marked with their Working Load Limits, while there are no plans for such restrictions in the U.S.

While unlabelled straps will still be allowed in January, they’ll be rated at about 60 per cent of their actual strength. A stretch of three-inch webbing without a tag, for example, will be downgraded to 3,000 lb. from its actual Working Load Limit of 5,400 lb.

Meanwhile, other issues still remained unresolved on both sides of the border this fall.

Since cargo controls are expected to withstand a rearward force of 0.5 g, inspectors in New York are now beginning to open barn doors to inspect load security within van trailers, said Rolf Vanderzwaag of the Ontario Trucking Association.

“And the 0.5 in a rearward direction is a pretty tall order,” he said.

Common devices such as Saf-T-Lok bars and jack bars are used to stabilize loads, but they can’t be assigned Working Load Limits since they simply rely on friction to brace against trailer walls, said Joe Takacs, director of engineering at Kinedyne. So that requires the use of restraints such as logistics straps.

Trailer manufacturers, meanwhile, need to consider the Working Load Limits of van walls, logistics tracks and winch slider tracks when identifying the limits associated with related anchor points.

The requirement could be considered excessive, suggested Ray Camball of Trailmobile, referring to courier companies that load trailers with a mere 20,000 lb. in small boxes and packages. “Do they really need 10,000 lb. (in restraints) back there?”

To compound matters, the location of anchor points becomes more difficult with trailers that incorporate thin walls and small posts in the name of saving weight, he said.

But the rules are needed to hold the cargo in place for times when vehicles back into loading docks, Minor countered. And some of the restraints can be accomplished with friction mats that have long been used by railways.

“My recommendation is to do the best you can do for the enforcement you expect to encounter,” he said.

Romolo DiVito, regional sales manager for Ancra International, suggested fleets should pay close attention to any of the anchor points that they use in the name of load security. Anchor points including D-rings, chain tie-downs, winches, integrated tracks, welded rods, stake pockets and pipe spools are already better choices than rub rails, the bottom flange of frames and side rail braces, he said, adding that lightening holes, landing gear braces and trailer cross members are downright “ugly”.

And fleets should also avoid using repaired straps, since the act of pushing a needle and thread through a piece of webbing will reduce its strength by 15 per cent, he said.

Then there’s the issue of where straps are purchased in the first place, and whether the suppliers offer insurance that will apply across the border. Brokers who buy straps from China see the insurance end at the water’s edge, said Robert Spooner, account executive at Kinedyne Canada.

Regardless of the differences, fleets are focusing on load security more than ever – and that’s proven by dramatic increases in the sales of tie-downs, edge protectors and logistics straps since the U.S. introduced the rules, said Kinedyne’s Takacs.

“Prior to January, I very seldom saw nice clean straps,” he said. “People (now) feel it’s better to have too many than not enough.

“Most drivers … have taken these seriously, and incorporated safer ways of securing cargo.”

After all, it’s all in the name of feeling secure – both on the highway, and when passing by an inspection station.

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