Stop Load Damage

Nov. 1, 2006
In-transit product damage, and related safety hazards, can be prevented at the loading dock.

In 1991 a 46-year-old truck driver was delivering freight from a distribution center to one of Wal-Mart's Sam's Club stores in Fayetteville, N.C. When he arrived at the store, he opened the trailer's right rear door to begin unloading the cargo, which appeared to be stable. However, as he opened the left door, freight weighing 1,000 to 1,500 pounds fell out and landed on top of him.

He suffered internal head injuries, cognitive damage, cervical damage, a rotator cuff injury, and numerous other physical, mental and emotional problems. Medical expenses alone totaled $116,000.

The driver and his wife sued Wal-Mart, alleging that its employees had failed to: 1) properly and safely load, stack, and secure the freight; 2) adhere to common industry practices and standards; 3) follow Federal DOT guidelines; 4) train freight loaders; and 5) warn of the danger of unsecured freight. Specifically, the plaintiff complained that the stretch wrap used to secure the cargo had been inadequate to hold the freight and prevent shifting during transportation. In addition, it was claimed, the defendant should have used other readily available and economically feasible load restraints, such as safety straps, air bags or other dunnage. The jury awarded $2 million to the driver, and an additional $225,000 to his wife for loss of consortium. (Kilgo v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Nov. 13, 1998) While incidents like this are rare, they can be very expensive. The costs of in-transit damage to freight can also add up. According to research conducted by Kraft Foods NA (Glenview, Ill.), one of North America's largest food companies, " unsaleable losses" in the food and grocery distribution industry totaled $2.57 billion (almost 1% of total sales) in 2004. Almost 60% of these unsaleables could be attributed to damaged goods. Load damage prevention can be organized into four areas: packaging and pallet building, handling practices, loading practices and load configuration.

1. Packaging and Pallet Building
According to Darlene Jones, manager of cargo claims for APL Logistics (Memphis, Tenn.), even if a shipment is loaded properly, it can still sustain damage if the products were not packaged properly in the first place. "Cartons may be too weak to hold the products securely," she offers as an example.

If weak packaging leads to load damage, packaging strength and durability must be improved. Possibilities include converting from paper to corrugated and better package sealing techniques.

Poor pallet building can also lead to damage. First, pallets should be inspected to make sure they are in good condition and strong enough to support and secure the products. They should not be overloaded. Masonite or similar sheets can be placed on top of each pallet to provide extra protection from other freight loaded on top of it.

Finally, completed pallets should be secured and stabilized properly, such as with stretch wrap. The wrap should be secured to the pallet platform, using the proper tension and number or wraps. Regularly scheduled stretch wrap equipment audits can ensure that the stretch wrappers are applying the proper amount of tension for load restraining.

2. Handling Practices
According to Terry Morgan, the most common cause of load damage is forklifts. "One reason is that there is pressure on the drivers for production, so they often do their jobs too quickly, which leads to damage," says Morgan, owner of Terry Morgan Inc. (Malabar, Fla.), a registered transportation practitioner and a frequent expert witness, including loss and damage claims.

"Even if they have received training on how to operate forklifts safely, they may work too quickly in order to be able to operate safely." He recommends that, in addition to training, operators be reminded to utilize good judgment and common sense at all times, so they can work as quickly as possible and still be safe.

There are other causes of load damage related to forklifts, reports Randy Belliboni, v.p. of sales for Pengate Handling Systems (Syracuse, N.Y.), a dealer Raymond lift trucks. "The most common cause of load damage we see is operators using lift trucks for the wrong applications," he says. People may handle loads with a walkie pallet truck when they should be using a counterbalanced truck. Forks may pierce products on the pallets. Operators will try to pick up loads that are too heavy, which can cause the loads to topple. They may also over-squeeze the hydraulic functions on lift truck clamp attachments, thus crushing a load. The solution, according to Belliboni, is comprehensive lift truck operator training. In addition to covering generalities, the training should cover the functionality of the specific trucks being used on-site.

"There are specific trucks that do specific jobs, and operators should be trained to use each truck and the tasks for which it can be used in that particular warehouse," he says. For example, while a walkie pallet truck can often handle double-stacked pallets from a capacity standpoint, a counterbalanced truck may be a better choice in terms of load safety, because the operator can tilt the load back against the backrest during travel.

3. Loading Practices
Rite-Hite Corp. (Milwaukee, Wis.), which manufactures loading dock equipment, including dock levelers and vehicle restraints, has been studying causes of load damage for about ten years. "One of the most common causes of load damage is the result of the jolts that occur to the loads when the forklifts are crossing the dock levelers from the dock to the trailers," says Joe Manone, v.p. of marketing. Rite-Hite has focused on developing products that help smooth out the transition between the building floor and the trailer floor.

Another cause of damage is moving the loads from the dock floor to the trailer floor, which is often unstable, causing the trailer to bounce during loading. Trailer stabilizing devices can reduce this tendency to bounce.

Some forklift manufacturers also offer cushions that can be mounted to the vertical portions of the forks, so that, if the loads shift and hit the vertical portion, the cushions will absorb the force. These are especially useful with fragile cargo.

4. Load Configuration
According to Jim Stricker, a cargo claims manager for APL Logistics (Memphis, Tenn.), the most common reason for claims is damage during transit caused by inadequate pallet building. "We see double stacking of pallets or cartons that shouldn't be double stacked," he says.

It is also important to distribute the load weight evenly on the floor of the truck or railcar. Lighter cargo should be loaded on top of heavier cargo, and dry goods should be loaded over liquid goods. If the latter leak, they will leak onto the trailer bed, not onto the dry goods.

During loading, empty space should be minimized as much as possible. It is also a good idea to develop standard loading diagrams specific to the loads being loaded. One effective way to minimize voids is to use a practice called pin-wheeling, which involves turning 40x48 pallets 90 degrees to increase storage space and reduce voids.

Finally, use appropriate dunnage to fill in any gaps. One popular type of dunnage are airbags. These are inserted in gaps then inflated by air pump to the proper size and pressure. Dunnage bags can prevent one of the most common causes of freight damage during transit: freight falling forward or backward. They can also brace loads and help absorb vibration.

From Principles to Practice
Kraft Foods NA (Northfield, Ill.) launched a concerted effort to reduce product damage in 1999. "When we got interested in load damage issues, I was overseeing warehousing and distribution at the time," says Philip Carlson, senior director, global logistics operations for Kraft. "We were losing a fair amount of money due to damage."

Kraft managers broke the problem down into its component parts. It turned out that the four leading causes of damage were: poor packaging, poor pallet configuration, poor handling and loading practices, and store-level stocking damage. Solutions focused on packaging improvements, distribution practices and policies (such as improved truck loading and load protection methods), and pallet configuration changes.

Carlson was responsible for looking at in-transit damage. "We focused on improvements in the areas of loading techniques and load securement," he says. "This involved understanding the kind of freight we had and what was necessary to protect it in transit."

Kraft created a project team of experienced people who were familiar with the company's network.

Members included representatives from operations, manufacturing, distribution, finance, and R&D packaging. "We also brought in damage prevention vendors and ended up selecting one to partner with," he says. The team invited trucking and railroad vendors to provide input.

The team came up with three categories of solutions: tools and techniques, establishing ownership and consistent training. Some tools included standard loading diagrams specific to each manufacturing plant and groups of products as well as standard specifications for load protection materials, such as airbags and other dunnage. They developed a training video that emphasized five principles of load protection: minimizing empty space, staggering loads side to side, creating bulkheads, not loading damaged goods, and acting on feedback.

To instill a sense of ownership Kraft created a financial charge-back policy to source plants and provided budgets for labor and materials. It also created financial reduction targets and included them in performance incentives and evaluations.

On the training front, the team arranged to train all loaders at Kraft facilities, and use high-profile progress charts, photos and success stories at all sites. "The training program includes a video, and the program allows the information to live on well beyond the time when we first created it," says Carlson.

Employees and supervisors accepted the training program very enthusiastically. "In fact, when we shot the video, we made it in one of our mixing centers, and we used our own employees," he says. "They were more than enthusiastic about documenting good techniques."

"We created the program internally, but we have since shared it with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), so it is available to anyone who wants it," says Carlson.

PepsiCo (Purchase, N.Y.), the third-largest food and beverage company in North America, has also actively and successfully addressed load damage. The company's managers learned from the video program developed by Kraft, then added to it, incorporating some additional industry best practices not covered in the Kraft video. Next, Carl DuBose, senior manager, logistics operations, and a coworker, Gwen Anrico, designed a web-based damage prevention training program.

"This online tool helps us keep track of and document the training," says DuBose. "It is also easy to update."

PepsiCo's damage prevention program has seven modules: an introduction, damage standards and damage examples, assessing pallets, principles of loading and unloading, loading displays, warehouse damage audit form, and assessment. The company uses the Internet learning program to train all new hires in its warehouses. It is also part of the annual refresher training for company-owned warehouse and third-party warehouse employees. Since developing the training program, Pepsico has teamed up with several of its supply chain partners, including JB Hunt, BNSF, CHEP, ITW Shippers, Bi-State Packaging, and The Damage Prevention Company, to evaluate and identify the root causes of damage in its supply chain.

"We have formed internal cross-functional teams to re-evaluate everything from shipping platforms to packaging to ensure that we are optimizing our ability to deliver damage-free product to our customers in the most cost-effective manner," says DuBose.

Bill Atkinson is a business journalist with more than 29 years experience writing about the supply chain, workplace safety and other topics.


Packaging and Pallet Building

  • Pack products in durable packages.
  • Seal packages properly.
  • Use strong, damage-free pallets.
  • Stabilize pallet loads with shrink wrap.

Handling Practices

  • Create a balance for forklift operators between productivity and safety.
  • Use the proper type of forklift for each load.
  • Provide forklift training that is unique to the facility's forklifts and the work environment.

Loading Practices

  • Install dock leveling and trailer stabilizing devices.
  • Add cushions to forklift forks.

Load Configurations

  • Double-stack pallets only when it is safe to do so.
  • Stack light loads on top of heavy loads.
  • Stack dry good loads on top of liquid good loads.
  • •Minimize empty space between pallets and loads by pinwheeling or dunnage.

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