The Road Traffic Act 1991 Introduced provisions into the Road Traffic Act 1988 making new offences, applicable to the state of loads on vehicles. These provisions reflect the seriousness with which the safety of loads on vehicles is now viewed. Legal requirements and common sense require that all loads carried on vehicles are secured, whatever the journey. This is to protect the people involved in loading, unloading and driving the vehicle, together with other road users and pedestrians.

Trailers/Rigid Bodies

 Every year, activities involving the use of trailer and curtainsider bodies cause death and serious injury through misuse and incorrect operation. You, your workmates, and bystanders are at risk.

Dangers include:

  • falling and slipping
  • failures of lifting equipment
  • vehicle overturns
  • being struck by the forklift or other loading means

Vehicle Checks & Defect Reporting

Safe Loading also includes the safe operation of the vehicle/trailer, therefore vehicle and lifting equipment must be checked for any faults. The following must work correctly to ensure nothing is damaged and that each item is working properly:

  • brakes, including parking brake
  • tyres
  • lights
  • steering
  • seatbelts
  • wheel chocks (if needed)
  • lifting equipment – tail lifts
  • audible reversing alarm
  • vision aids – mirrors and CCTV cameras (where fitted)

Load Security

When a vehicle is loaded/unloaded, it is imperative to ensure that the tailgate is fully secured and cannot be opened.

Easy Sheet– Load Security

Although it is imperative that the load in the trailer or vehicle body is secure, it is as important to ensure that the is fully closed, secure and helping to prevent the ejection of loose building materials, soil, sand, or gravel exiting the body shell.

Safe loads will only remain safe and secure if the driver undertakes the journey in a responsible manner. Therefore, it is imperative that the following are adhered to at all times.

General Driving Rules

Drivers must consider at all times that they:

  • are aware of the load being carried
  • do not brake sharply and – leave space between the vehicle being driven and the one in front
  • they drive smoothly, no sudden changes in direction
  • enter roundabouts and corners at the correct speed

Arriving at a site location

A driver must be aware of exactly where to go, and what needs to be done. The driver will probably need to talk to someone at the loading/unloading address and:

  • Obey all rules – signs, one-way systems etc.
  • Be aware of pedestrians at all times.
  • Wear safety gear (PPE) and all high-visibility clothing issued if required at the loading/unloading point, which will possibly include safety boots and a hard hat or safety glasses, depending on site rules.


Drivers should minimise reversing – both the amount undertaken, and the distances travelled and equally, a driver should ensure that:

  • the reversing area is clear
  • use any reversing aids installed on the vehicle, including cameras, mirrors and alarms
  • obey the directions of the banksmen (signallers) if mandatory at the location including being aware about what the signals given mean and obey them at all times
  • be mindful of banksmen, as they are at great risk from any reversing vehicle. If the driver cannot see the banksman at any time when moving the driver MUST stop

Some sites have arranged to eliminate the need for banksmen because of the risks they face. If this is the case, you should make sure you know what these arrangements are.

Exiting the cab properly

Jumping out can cause broken limbs and twisted ankles: it could also put the driver into the path of another vehicle

Keep close to the vehicle

A driver must consider his/her own safety, as there could be a risk of being run over by other vehicles. (Note: At some sites, the driver may be instructed to keep away from the entire area during the loading of their vehicle). 


It is imperative that when loading/unloading, the driver must always:

  • Park correctly and apply the handbrake
  • Remove the ignition keys from the vehicle
  • Keep a good, clear space all around the vehicle
  • If the loading/unload point seems unsafe, the driver MUST report to the client/site manager

Building sites 

If delivering to a building site, when exiting the site, it is imperative that upon reaching the exit (and before re-joining the public highway) the vehicle is parked and a walk round check of the vehicle is carried out specifically noting the following:

  • Tyres are not cut or punctured
  • No debris is wedged between the twin tyre walls of axles 3 and 4
  • The ABS light is not showing
  • All wheels are free of mud and soft debris that may be a danger to other road users if deposited on the public highway


Both loading and unloading should be subject to a risk assessment, as required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Loading and unloading should be carried out by trained staff that are aware of the risks involved.

Drivers should also be aware of the additional risk of the load, or part of the load, moving when the vehicle is being driven. This applies to all vehicles and to all types of load. The driver is ultimately responsible for the load carried on their vehicle, whether or not they were involved in the securing of the load.

This procedure is not restricted only to the load being carried by the vehicle; it also covers any equipment on the vehicle such as loader cranes, landing legs, tailgates etc. All of these must be stowed and secured to manufacturer instructions so not to be a danger to other road users and pedestrians.

In the UK every year over 4,000 successful prosecutions for unsafe loads are brought against drivers and operators. Many other incidents involving the loss of loads or part loads go unreported.

The Road Traffic Act 1991 states that:

  1. A person is also guilty of using a vehicle in a dangerous condition if he/she uses, or causes or permits another to use, a motor vehicle or trailer on a road when the purpose for which it is used or the weight position or distribution of its load, or the manner in which it is secured is such that the use of the motor vehicle or trailer involves a danger of injury to any person.


  • A person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving the vehicle in its current state would be dangerous. In determining the state of the vehicle for this purpose, regard may be had to anything attached to or carried on or in it and to the manner in which it is attached or carried.
  • The maximum penalty for Dangerous Driving is 2 years imprisonment.

If a load, or part of a load, falls into water and causes pollution, and the waters are controlled, this is an offence under the Water Resources Act 1991. This could attract a maximum fine of £20,000, together with the cost of cleaning up the affected water.

Although this document is primarily concerned with ensuring that loads are contained on vehicles, there are legal obligations on operators and others to ensure the safety of all persons involved in loading operations. These obligations expect safe systems of work for loading, moving, unloading, sheeting and safe access onto vehicles.

The principal legislation governing such matters is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Regulation 13 of “The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992”. It is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and, at certain premises, by local authorities. There is an Approved Code of Practice for the “The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992” which should be followed. Further information can be obtained from local offices of the HSE (listed in telephone directories) or the HSE Infoline 08701 545500.

The variety of loads, vehicles and operating conditions make it impossible to cover all the circumstances likely to be encountered by drivers and operators. This procedure must therefore not be regarded as exhaustive or exclusive, but it does apply to all vehicles from the smallest car derived van to the largest goods vehicle. Satisfactory securing methods not mentioned in this code do exist, and others will be developed. However, the basic principles described in this procedure must be complied with, irrespective of the actual method used to secure the load.

In addition to the load safety methods described here, extra precautions are necessary when dangerous goods such as toxic and corrosive chemicals and flammable substances are carried on road vehicles. A list of the main Regulations and approved Codes of Practice currently applicable to the carriage of these substances can be found on the HSE website.

High Loads

Particular attention should be paid to the dangers of high loads that might have to pass under bridges or other structures across roads. Every year several hundred bridges are hit by Lorries which are loaded too high or which are themselves too high to pass underneath. In some cases, this has resulted in the drivers of the vehicles and other people being killed or injured.

Any impact on a railway bridge has the potential to dislodge the rails, which can result in the derailment of a train and the possibility of a serious railway accident.

All vehicles with an overall travelling height above 3 metres must have the maximum height of the vehicle in feet and inches displayed inside the cab so that it is clearly visible to the driver. (Regulation 10 of The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 as amended by S.I. 1997 No 530)

Any vehicle fitted with high-level equipment that is capable of exceeding a height of 3 metres must be fitted with a visual warning device. This device must tell the driver if the equipment has been left in the extended position. (Regulation 10A of The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 as amended by S.I. 1997 No 530)


Articulated Vehicles

 Every year, activities involving the use of articulated vehicles cause death and serious injury through misuse and incorrect operation. You, your workmates, and bystanders are at risk. Dangers include:

  • falling and slipping
  • failures of any lifting equipment installed
  • striking overhead cables/obstructions
  • vehicle overturns

Before you start work (see also defect Reporting)

Each day check your vehicle and lifting equipment (where installed) and report any faults. Check the following work properly and ensure nothing is damaged and that each item is working correctly:

  • brakes
  • tyres
  • lights
  • steering
  • seatbelts
  • wheel chocks (if needed)
  • lifting equipment (where fitted)
  • audible reversing alarm (where fitted)
  • vision aids – mirrors and CCTV cameras (where fitted)

Before setting off

Check your in-cab information about any special precautions for the drop/pick-up. Sites should tell the company about these beforehand and agree precautions.  Know your clearance height. Check you have your safety gear (PPE), especially high-visibility clothing and boots.

Entering a site to Load/Unload

Know exactly where to go, and what needs to be done – you will probably need to talk to someone on site.

  • Obey all rules – signs, one-way systems etc.
  • Be aware of pedestrians at all times.
  • Wear your safety gear (PPE). High-visibility clothing is essential. You are likely to need safety boots and may need other gear such as a hard hat or safety glasses, depending on site rules.

Loading your Vehicle

Before a vehicle is loaded, it should be checked to ensure that its load platform, bodywork, and anchorage points (and twist locks where fitted), are appropriate for the load, and are in a sound and serviceable condition.

It is a legal requirement that the maximum permitted axle and gross weight limits are not exceeded. Where a part of the load is to be picked up or removed in the course of a journey, the effect on gross weight, individual axle weights and on the securing and stability of the load must not be overlooked.

Although removal of part of the load will reduce the gross vehicle weight, the change in weight distribution may cause individual axles to become overloaded, (Commonly referred to as the diminishing load effect). This should be considered when loading.

If practicable, the load should be placed in contact with a headboard. Where this is not practicable then additional means of securing must be used.

Possible methods include:

  • Effectively moving the headboard rearwards, i.e. fitting an obstacle across the vehicle platform which should be firmly attached to the chassis frame;
  • Blocks, scotches, bolsters, or wedges to prevent individual items of a load moving in any direction. Care must be taken to ensure that these are adequately secured to the vehicle platform
  • Additional lashing.
  • In the case of a van, straps secured to the vehicle body should be used.
  • In order to achieve maximum vehicle stability, the load should be placed so that the centre of gravity is kept as low as practicable and near to the vehicles centre line.

This means that, where possible:

  • The load should be spread to give an even weight distribution over the whole floor area.
  • When a load is stacked the larger and heavier items should be placed at the bottom (see image below)
  • The heavier items should be placed nearer to the centre line of the vehicle and the lighter ones towards the sides.
  • When a load is stacked the lower packages should be strong enough to support the others when the vehicle is braking, cornering, or accelerating.

The weight of heavy loads of small dimensions should be distributed across the vehicle platform by the use of load spreading devices. (e.g.  Pallets, large wooden boards etc.)

Unloading your Vehicle

If you have loaded your vehicle in a safe and secure situation and your checks reveal the load has not moved during the journey, unloading the goods being carried should be simply a question of doing everything in the reverse of the way in which the goods were loaded.

You should ensure that safe unloading practices are maintained at all times with PPE being worn throughout the process and that you follow the guidance of the site operatives at the point of unloading.

Leaving the Delivery Point

A vehicle-leaving site after delivery of the load should be subjected to the same basic damage and cleanliness checks as when leaving the loading point. If the vehicle has operated in ‘off road’ conditions and if there is any likelihood of debris blowing out of the body, it should be adequately sheeted. The rear lamps and reflective marker boards should be checked for cleanliness and damage.

Good Practice


  • The load is evenly distributed
  • The load does not exceed the carrying capacity of the vehicle or axel loadings
  • Tyres and low-level equipment have not been damaged when going off road
  • Mud and stones are not deposited on the public highway
  • There are no stones, bricks, etc trapped between tyres that could become a hazard to other road users or pedestrians
  • Sheets, nets and strapping adequately contain the load
  • Lights, reflective marker boards and number plates are undamaged, clean, and operational
  • Wet loads are adequately drained before joining the public highway
  • Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) including a hard hat, gloves, safety boots and a high visibility vest or jacket and if appropriate eye and ear protection are available and worn at all times when outside the cab
  • Tyre pressures are checked regularly
  • The driving technique is adjusted to suit the vehicle and load centre of gravity as excessive speed effects stability
  • The vehicle is on firm level ground at all times
  • The area around the point of discharge is clear of personnel and obstructions.
  • Access into the body is only by an approved method
  • Site rules are known, understood, and observed
  • The manufacturers operating instructions and safety rules are known, understood, and implemented

The Law

If a driver fails to load or unload a vehicle safely, both the operator and driver may be responsible for seriously injuring themselves or others, perhaps even fatally. Both the operator and driver could also be contravening health and safety law.

Employers, owners, and managers have a responsibility to provide and maintain safe systems of work, and to take reasonable and practicable precautions to ensure the health and safety of all workers and members of the public who may be affected by their activities. They should ensure safe systems of work for loading and unloading vehicles are understood, and procedures are in place to check they are followed.

All drivers, including the self-employed, have a responsibility for their own health and safety, and that of other people who could be affected by their actions. Remember, accidents caused by human error are avoidable.

Off Road Conditions

When a vehicle has been loaded under off-road conditions, the driver should inspect all securing devices and locks, the tyres, and any low mounted equipment for damage before leaving site.

The driver should always check the condition of the lamps, reflective marker boards and number plates before leaving site – as depending on the ground conditions, they may have become obscured by mud and grime.