Safety Advisor: General Liability Exposures and Controls in the Trucking Industry

Liability, physical damage and cargo claims resulting from the operation of a truck are the obvious exposures for motor carriers; however, liability related to your premises, equipment or completed operations should not be overlooked. At Sentry Insurance, we want to help you control your exposure to general liability claims.

Premises and Equipment

If someone is injured on your property, you may be subject to premises liability law. As the owner or occupier, you generally have legal responsibility for accidents that occur on your property. The actual liability will vary depending on the rules and principles adopted in your jurisdiction.

Your facilities may consist of a reception area, offices, a dispatch room, truck terminals, garages, repair/service areas, outdoor parking areas, restrooms and a truckers’ or employee lounge. Throughout the day, you may have manufacturer representatives, repair or service personnel, inspectors, family members and customers on your property. Hazards to these visitors are not always obvious.

Slip, trip and fall injuries are the most common accidents. They may occur on an icy sidewalk, a loose or uneven stair tread, a piece of debris or spilled liquid on the floor. These seemingly small hazards can cause a serious accident and lead to a costly liability claim. The injured person may recover damages for lost wages, medical bills and pain and suffering.

Good housekeeping is the most important preventative measure you can take. Keep your facility free of debris and clutter by removing trash from your premises and sweeping or vacuuming on a daily basis. Repair or replace worn, torn or loose floor coverings immediately. Clean up spills promptly and display “Caution – Wet Floor” signs. Make sure all electric wiring is properly insulated, is run inside your walls and is properly grounded. Keep all your sidewalks and parking lots free of debris, cracks and potholes. Promptly remove snow and ice.

Make sure that the furnishings in your reception and lounge areas, including beds and cots, are in good repair. If you provide accommodations for overnight stays, equip those areas with fire and smoke alarm systems meeting requirements of the National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code 101 and local building codes.

Prohibit visitors from all repair, loading dock and truck storage areas. Post “Employee Only” signs at all restricted areas. If warehousing, loading or unloading is done on your premises, take care to avoid forklift accidents including collisions with visitor pedestrians and/or damage to customer equipment (cargo and trailers). Establish forklift aisles and patterns and train your operators in proper and safe operation. (Forklift drivers must be trained and certified in compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standard 1910.178.) Prohibit visitors from all repair, loading dock and truck storage areas. Post “Employee Only” signs at all restricted areas.

Completed Operations

If your company makes an error in dispatch, or delivers products to the wrong consignee, you can be exposed to completed operations claims.

Poor or deficient bills of lading, poor record keeping practices, errors in dispatcher instructions or communications or driver errors in loading and unloading can all lead to costly liability claims.

A particular point of concern is the loading and unloading of bulk commodities and liquids via tanker truck. To help control your liability exposures, establish tanker loading and unloading procedures to help prevent accidents from occurring:

  • Place construction cones around the truck and trailer in traffic areas to deter traffic from striking the driver, the truck or running over the hose
  • Check the bill of lading at the time of loading and unloading to ensure the correct product is being delivered to the right customer
  • Ensure that the product being loaded/unloaded in multiple compartment tankers is the correct one according to the bill of lading
  • Check that the storage tank or silo is the right one and has sufficient size and volume to hold the unloaded product
  • Inspect hose gaskets and connections for defect or wear and ensure connections are properly fastened at time of use
  • Make sure hoses are properly secured to the trailer and the protection cap for the exit pipe is in place during transit
  • Position the truck/tanker so that the controls are on the same side as the storage tank the product is being unloaded into
  • Use wheel chocks during the loading/unloading process
  • Require the driver to be in attendance during the loading and unloading process

Make these procedures part of your documented driver orientation and training program. Conduct refresher training periodically to help ensure compliance.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulation (Part 373.101) requires that every motor carrier issue a receipt or bill of lading (BOL) for property tendered for transportation. The BOL must include the following information:

  • Names of consignor and consignee
  • Origin and destination points
When preparing to fill a storage tank or silo, check that it has sufficient size and volume to hold the unloaded product.
  • Number of packages
  • Description of freight
  • Weight, volume or measurement of freight

The BOL should have a full description of the product, not only to meet federal rules, but also to avoid confusion or errors on the part of your driver and customer. Your driver and the customer should both sign the BOL, indicating confirmation and acceptance of the delivery. Retain copies of all bills of lading for the minimum retention periods according to Part 379 of the FMCSRs. After the retention period, only destroy them if a mistake in delivery could no longer be discovered.

By being aware of your premises, equipment and completed operations exposures, you can take steps to help reduce potential losses.

At Sentry Insurance, we want to help you protect the assets that contribute to the success and profitability of your business. Be diligent in monitoring your general liability exposures and take action to reduce potential losses. By doing so, you can help minimize accidents and reduce your insurance costs.

Sentry Insurance is committed to helping you protect your business by providing resources to manage loss-producing situations and prevent accidents. For additional information visit ForTruckersOnly.com, or call 1-877-832-1835. 

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