How to Prevent Damaged Freight: A Guide for Trucking Companies

May 19, 2020

Even when the economy is booming, competition is fierce in the trucking industry. Shipping companies are always trying to outperform one another to win customer contracts. But when economic conditions worsen, competition becomes even fiercer. In those scenarios, many trucking companies, and particularly smaller fleets, can struggle to land business.

As such, fleet managers must do everything possible to ensure customer satisfaction and retain any business they do have. Especially in difficult economic climates, there’s less tolerance for mistakes. Even though carriers aren’t held financially responsible for damaged freight, as this is usually determined in free on board (FOB) agreements, it’s still important to try to protect freight to prevent customers from having to pay for damages.

This means companies need to go above and beyond to make sure items don’t get damaged during transport. Taking proper precautions will go a long way in ensuring that products arrive safe and sound at their destinations.

In this post, I'll review what damaged freight is, the top reasons why it happens, and how to prevent it.

What Is Damaged Freight?

The shipping process can be very complex. There are often many different players in the mix, including manufacturers, warehouse personnel, and vehicle operators.

Items can get damaged at any point in the supply chain. Once goods are in transit and they get damaged, they are referred to as damaged freight.

This occurs after a bill of lading is signed and items are officially loaded for transport and placed into the custody of the carrier. Items that sustain damage either prior to the bill of lading being signed or after a freight bill is signed at a customer site are not to be considered freight.

For this reason, it’s important to be extra careful when reviewing and signing shipping documents since these documents assign and remove responsibility for damaged items.  

Top Reasons for Freight Damage

Accidents will always occur during transport, and some are impossible to avoid.

However, by taking basic precautions and prioritizing safety, trucking companies can significantly reduce freight damage. As a result, they can save money, improve their reputation, and increase customer satisfaction.

Here are some of the top reasons items get beat up during shipping.

1. Incorrect Palletization

Properly palletizing—or stacking—goods is critical for reducing freight damage during shipping. Yet this is a process that trucking companies often rush through. As such, it often results in damage that could otherwise be easily prevented. When pallets aren’t stacked properly on a truck, they can shift or fall during transport.

“Just because it is in a crate doesn't mean it is secure,” says Ed McQueen, the director of loss prevention for Southeastern Freight Lines. “You can stack things eight pallets high in a warehouse but a warehouse isn’t moving 60 mph.”

2. Environmental Fluctuations

When loading a truck, it’s important to remember that the shipping conditions can change drastically on the road. Temperature fluctuations, vibrations, bumps, and hills will all impact cargo, causing it to move.

All possible environmental changes should be taken into consideration to avoid damage.

3. Operator Behavior

Another top reason for damaged freight is poor driver behavior. For example, drivers that brake heavily, take sharp turns, and make risky maneuvers are more liable to damage goods in transport.

Drivers should be aware of the important role they play in safely delivering items.

How to Handle Damaged Freight

This raises the question: What steps should trucking companies take when freight becomes damaged? It’s necessary to have a clear plan in place so that drivers know what to do and how to respond to the situation.

Generally speaking, drivers should be instructed to accept responsibility for damaged freight. They should also avoid arguing with warehouse managers or trying to flee the scene. Attempting to circumvent the inspection process or leaving without signing a freight bill will reflect poorly on the company and may negatively impact the customer relationship. After all, a customer needs to have a complete report in order to submit an insurance claim.

Drivers should consult with warehouse managers and carefully compare the condition of damaged items with notes from the bill of lading. Companies are also encouraged to use digital forms so that freight claims can be immediately filed, processed, and transmitted to the insurance company. This will prevent claims from backing up and causing financial trouble down the line.

How to Prevent Damaged Freight

Now that you have a clear understanding of freight damage, here are some specific steps that trucking companies can take to reduce this costly problem.

1. Require Drivers to Review the Bill of Lading

A bill of lading is a very important document that specifically outlines how items should be treated during transport.

For example, a bill of lading may require a driver to avoid certain routes, road conditions, or speeds. If the driver doesn’t read the bill of lading, it will be impossible to follow proper procedures.

2. Consider Offering FTL for Valuable Hauls

The choice of whether to ship a full truckload (FTL) ultimately belongs to the customer. While it costs more to do, using this option could significantly reduce freight damage.

Items are sent directly from the warehouse to the customer when they are sent FTL—without any other deliveries in between. As a result, items are much less liable to become dislodged or damaged.  

3. Avoid Severe Weather When Possible

Transportation companies lose about $3.5 million annually to severe weather events. Foul weather can lead to accidents and shipping delays, damaging items and preventing them from reaching their destinations.

Trucking companies would be wise to use modern GPS systems with cutting-edge forecasting. That way, drivers can plan ahead and avoid inclement weather that might slow them down or cause accidents.

4. Use Onboard Telematics

As mentioned, operators play a major role in preventing freight damage. However, drivers don't always have proper incentives to drive safely.

By using telematics systems with real-time and historical data transmission, trucking companies can gain greater visibility into driver behavior. This visibility can encourage drivers to follow protocols, reducing risk along the way.

5. Always Block and Brace

Merely stacking items is not enough to prevent damage during shipping, even when operating a full trailer.

Companies should use blocking mechanisms with cargo to prevent items from moving side to side. In addition, bracing solutions can prevent items from moving up and down during transit. Equal bracing and blocking can help keep items firmly in place.

6. Test All Packaging

Thoroughly test packaging when you can before you ship products.

Many companies avoid this step, trusting the advice of third-party providers or shipping partners. Yet companies often ship based on cost and may skimp on safety and quality to save money, especially when belt-tightening initiatives are in place.

Testing packaging is an easy way to prevent issues before they arise on the road.

7. Streamline Driver Workflows

Accidents tend to arise when operators are in a hurry. When time is not on their side, operators are more liable to speed or unload items haphazardly.

Trucking companies can help by eliminating tasks that take up extra time, such as manual paperwork. Digitizing driver workflows can save a significant amount of time throughout the day, especially for drivers who are running less than truckload (LTL) operations with multiple stops.

Vector can create custom workflows, eliminating paperwork and saving drivers valuable time during stops. See how Vector can help save time for your drivers.

This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.

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