Truckers use tarps to cover and secure their loads and protect other drivers and pedestrians. One of the most significant injury risks your drivers face, however, are falls that can occur as tarps are being installed. This is a serious safety concern particularly for those who operate garbage trucks, gravel trucks, tank cars and trucks, flatbeds, and other similar vehicles. Because your drivers can’t use hand-or footholds while maneuvering on top of a truck, their first choice should be to tarp from the ground. At facilities, spreader bars, shipper’s racks, and T-posts make tarping safer and easier. You can also buy or retrofit trucks with flip arms, soft sides, curtains, or sliding tarps that have ground-level handles and controls. Many forklift manufacturers provide compatible kits for applying tarps.

What your employees need to know about safely installing a tarp

Tarps can be heavy and awkward. As indicated above, installing the tarp while standing on the ground should be the first choice. If not feasible, fall prevention methods such as facility loading platforms and catwalks, with handrails and steps, provide safe working surfaces at a proper height for tarping. Old flatbeds can be retrofitted with railings and steps to become tarping platforms. Temporary nets or railings made of metal, plastic, or canvas can be installed on flatbed trucks to prevent falls. Railed ladders, rack arms, and ramps are other safe tarping platforms.

What your employees need to do to safely install a tarp

If an employee must climb the truck to install a tarp, they need to use a fall arrest system to securely tie-in and limit the distance they could fall. When moving a tarp by hand, use good body mechanics—employees should face the tarp, keep their back straight, and pull the tarp out with their hands at about waist height. They should avoid twisting or pulling down with their arms overhead. 

Before climbing onto a truck, evaluate and adjust the load for stability. Other steps to follow include:

  • Use steps or a small ladder to climb and dismount. Face the truck and keep three points of contact at all times when climbing and moving around.
  • When walking around and over the load—watch for gaps between items. Keep a firm grip on the tarp and ropes to prevent slipping.
  • Spread the feet to shoulder width apart and stagger them slightly for the most power and stability.
  • Watch for surface winds or gusts from traffic that could cause the tarp to fly away.
  • Securely fix tarps to the load.
  • When working at ground level, watch for oncoming traffic.
  • Never jump from the load or truck.

To remove a tarp, loosen it by fanning to move air underneath. Employees need to use their arms, legs, and body weight to pull the tarp off the truck. Watch for any unstable loads. Lay the tarp out on a flat area and check for holes or damage. Don’t walk on tarps—as this can cause damage to the tarp and be a slip hazard for the employee. 

Plan a pickup or delivery job before driving to a site. Know the site layout for the customers most frequently visited. Get advanced information on the load or material details and loading/unloading procedures, including available equipment and help. Consider the truck type, height, and access points before heading out on the road. Ask directly about the tarping policy; can it be done on site, or will the driver need to find a safe area outside the facility? Never tarp on the side of a busy road or highway. 

What to cover at your safety meeting on truck tarping

Discuss with your employees the proper steps for installing and removing a tarp—including the use of fall prevention gear and good body mechanics.

Other topics to cover include:

  • How to use the mechanical devices on the truck or at the loading facility
  • Safe places to install or remove the tarp if it cannot happen at the pick-up or drop-off location
  • Ladder use
  • Things to avoid, such as jumping from the truck and working in windy conditions

The tarp helps secure the loads your employees transport, making things safer on the road for all motorists. Make sure your employees understand how to keep themselves safe while installing or removing tarps from their truck.