A moment after the start, the giant Jumbo Jet raises its nose and takes off in a steep ascent. Immediately afterwards, it loses its thrust, rolls over to the wing and plummets into the ground. The hull gets lost in flames. Like in the movies. Except that this crash really happened in 2013, at Kabul ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sUWC2jfjqI). Nobody survived and the machine was completely destroyed. The cause? Shifting cargo – poorly strapped down armoured military vehicles which shifted to the plane’s tail as it took off. The pilots didn’t have a chance to control the machine.
Shifting of the load or its incorrect placement pose the greatest hazards in air and sea transport. Air or sea shipments are subject to more stringent control which is in direct proportion to the risks and potential losses in the case of a crash. And still spectacular disasters occur almost every year.
However, it is road transport that is the absolute crash record holder. It is much easier to make mistakes while loading and unloading cargo in road transport as there are no stringent rules and a road transport controlling agency in any given country is not able to check all the lorries.
Centre of gravity – the invisible perpetrator
Why can a load which is not immobilised be so dangerous? For two reasons:
- sliding out of the cargo bay – unfastened, package (barrel, container, box, irregularly shaped goods) which can move whilst cornering or overtaking, or under sudden braking, can destroy other transported goods, fall on the road, destroy the cargo bay, or in extreme cases – even the driver’s cab;
- movement of the centre of gravity and the vehicle rolling over – the classic example is the shifting of goods whilst taking a bend, which, affecting the vehicle’s or trailer’s stability, may result in their rollover.
It is crucial to determine the vehicle’s centre of gravity in order to secure its stability and thus safety on the roads. Leaving out detailed calculations, the general rule to achieve maximum vehicle stability is to place the load in such a manner so that the centre of gravity of the load is kept as low as practicable and as close to the vehicle’s centre of gravity as possible. So packaging algorithms may be very helpful in the process of determining the best arrangement of goods (“Tetris for professionals, or the benefits of packing with an algorithm”)
A load with an even weight distribution must then be secured against moving – otherwise the centre of gravity set at a standstill cannot be maintained.
Put it on the chain, net it, put it on a mat
“I did not believe such a huge steamer could have turned over on its side in perfectly calm water, in excellent weather, with no explosion, no fire, nothing. I thought I had gone crazy.” wrote Jack Woodford, an eyewitness to the sinking of Eastland SS at the port of Chicago in 1915. There were 2,752 passengers on the ship, some of whom, to watch the rowing contest taking place, moved to the left side of the ship. A moment later, the ship rolled over and went down. 844 people died in the disaster.
It’s difficult to control people. It is much easier to cope with the lashing of goods as there is a really wide selection of methods and materials available.
The most common ways of immobilising goods are:
- lashing straps – the most popular and the most versatile fastening measure, which enables the bundling of packages into sets, tying down to the ground, or to the sides, and which allows the immobilisation of irregularly shaped goods;
- chain loadbinders – they have similar applications as lashing straps, however being more durable, and more resistant to both mechanical damage and high temperatures, they are recommended for usage in the case of a heavy load (machines, structural steel, tree trunks), and only in case of goods which are damage resistant as chains can destroy delicate surfaces;
- anti-slip mats – they perform well (especially when used together with lashing straps) when a load’s adherence to the ground is crucial as in the case of heavy goods or stable packages;
- cargo safety nets – used as a cargo-bay-luggage partition net or as an alternative to lashing straps, they are great as a movement restraint measure for light-weight packages, for example great to prevent small items from falling out of the vehicle whilst opening its door;
- cargo-bay-luggage partition net – using partitions in the cargo bay is a very effective measure to protect packages against shifting, moving or damage.
500 and we’re done?
It seems obvious that the load should be properly fastened. However, it is very often neglected, or even ignored. It is so common that every year inspectors issue several thousand tickets for incorrect fixing or exceeding permissible laden mass or vehicle load capacity. The maximum penalty is a fine of PLN 500, which, importantly, is paid by the driver, not the carrier.
However, there is another price to pay when there is not even basic cargo securing. The lack of at least lashing straps, or in the case of a heavier load lashing chains, or their improper use led to a rollover or crushing of the driver’s cab whilst braking. Material losses (lost goods, damaged cars, insurance paid to victims) amount to tens and often hundreds of thousands of euros. You cannot put a price on human life. Unless we sum up all the 500 zlotys fines which had been paid before the tragedy occurred and which still didn’t get anybody thinking.