The Big Cover-Up

Features - Equipment & Products

Tarping systems can provide a variety of benefits to recyclers who are hauling materials.

March 19, 2010

Whether to protect against liability or against product shrinkage, every recycler knows it’s best to be covered. For loads heading over the highway, that means wrapping things up in a tarp and strapping the load down firmly.

 “It’s the law in many areas,” notes Keith Lowe, regional sales manager for Roll-Rite, LLC, Alger, Mich.

In addition, even with scrap metal, if lighter material or thin sheets are on top of a load above the top rail, a properly tarped load will help prevent this material from falling out or off of the load, he says.

“It’s all about time and safety,” says Steve Doughty, sales manager for Benlee Inc., Romulus, Mich. Primarily a trailer company, Benlee got into offering tarp systems out of necessity, he says.

Says Glenn Rasmus, demountable sales and product manager for Stellar Industries, Garner, Iowa, “Tarps prevent accidental spillage, which can lead to accidents and liability.”

Federal law says any roll-off container going down the road with material protruding over the top lip has to be covered. Or, if the roll-off contains material that can blow out, the material must be covered, Doughty says.


DOT (Department of Transportation) regulation 393.132, Subpart I, is the key rule that applies to transportation of scrapped vehicles that have been flattened or crushed, says David Brentz, vice president at Industrial Netting, Minneapolis.

The language of this regulation is posted at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Web site,, and on many of the Web sites of the companies mentioned in this article. In short, all motor vehicles transporting cargo on public roads must be loaded and equipped, and the cargo secured, in accordance with DOT regulation 393, Subpart I. It requires restraint to prevent the cargo from leaking, spilling, blowing or falling from the motor vehicle. “Cargo must be contained, immobilized or secured in accordance with this subpart to prevent shifting upon or within the vehicle to such an extent that the vehicle’s stability or maneuverability is adversely affected,” the regulation states.

 “The focus is to have a ‘secure load,’ whether it is a large generator strapped down to a flatbed trailer or debris in a container that may fall out or blow out,” Lowe says.

Regulations vary from state to state. For example, California regulations say haulers of trailers or dump trucks do not require a tarp if the load is 6 inches below the top rail, he says.

DOT rules also specify the number of tie-downs required. Tie-downs must be adjustable so the driver of an in-transit commercial motor vehicle can tighten them. However, this requirement does not apply to the use of steel strapping.

DOT regulation 393.134, the language of which also is available at, covers securing roll-off and hook-lift containers.

Rasmus divides the market into small box trucks—those measuring 16 feet or smaller—and the big boxes—those measuring more than 18 feet. The former can be hand tarped. However, he says anything in the “big box” range should be tarped mechanically.

“With anything larger—the 30-footers and 40s—you are better off with an automatic arm system,” he says. “If you have a 26,000-pound GVW (gross-vehicle-weight) truck, you should be running a window-shade type system,” Rasmus suggests.

An automatic system will pay dividends, according to suppliers. All of the sources interviewed for this feature say the savings and liability protection offered by an automatic system will repay the initial investment.


It is not true that pieces of scrap yell, “I want my lawyer,” the moment they shake loose off a truck. But you can be sure the people in the cars behind it will be on their cell phones before the scrap stops bouncing.

While the manufacturers defer to underwriters who have active programs with scrap industry clients to mitigate liability, basic human and legal issues come into play.

“Tarping,” Rasmus says, “provides the following savings: accident, vehicle, personal and property prevention.”

Nobody wants to be involved in a situation like the one in Oklahoma where debris came out of the top of a roll-off container that was going down the road and through the windshield of a vehicle, causing a child fatality.

Even if there is no human toll, the cost of a relatively minor situation can be major.

Brentz says that, in general, anytime a loose piece of scrap metal goes through a car windshield it costs a minimum of $50,000. While that is a broad rule-of-thumb that he has not experienced first-hand, he says he finds the figure plausible.

“We understand (anecdotally) that many jurisdictions practice rather aggressive enforcement,” Brentz says. That enforcement is true both in the United States and in Canada and Mexico as well. Under NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) regulations, Part 368 of the FMCSA rulebook applies. The regulations are mostly similar to 393 and most apply common-sense safety practices. That does not mean they can be glossed over.

“The scrap metal securement regulations in Canada appear to mirror those in the U.S.,” Brentz says. Industrial Netting participates in the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries (CARI). “I’m told by those members that enforcement is stringent,” he says.

Doughty agrees. While there are nuances in the Canadian law, Canada parallels most of the U.S. regulations, he says.

One of the primary legal issues is liability for worker injury. “You want to keep your guys off the load,” says Jim Merrick, Progressive Design Concepts, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Tarping systems have a big advantage over hand tarps because they keep the driver off of the vehicle or the top of the load. This, Lowe says, reduces injuries and accidents. He recalls a fatality in Texas on a stormy night when a container was located in an area of a construction site that was dark and muddy. The driver decided he would hand tarp the load on the street under a street light. He was found in the morning and must have slipped off while on top of the container, Lowe says. It is understandable that local authorities are pretty tough in enforcing the regulations following such a situation.

While recyclers know that most states have laws stating that loads must be covered, Rasmus cautions that most landfills, too, have their own by-laws that result in fines to a driver if his or her load is not tarped.

Sometimes, enforcement can be stringent. According to one source, Ohio law enforcement may ticket an uncovered vehicle even if it is empty. That report, however, might have been based on a truck that had been hauling paper with leftover material blowing free from the vehicle. In any case, it is better safe than sorry.


According to sources, a new hydraulic tarping system starts at about $8,000. However, the return on investment (ROI) can be quite good.

Doughty figures a hydraulic system can cover a trailer in a couple of minutes versus the half-hour it takes to cover a large container manually or the 10 to15 minutes it takes to do a small one.

“In my former experience of hand tarping as an operations manager, a tarping system would save enough time each day for the driver to pull an extra load,” Lowe says.

Doughty adds, “But the biggest issue is safety.” He notes the danger of having the driver slip and fall off the trailer or the problem of climbing around a box in inclement weather. “What is your driver worth to you?” he asks.

Merrick says a drive-through tarping system, with one worker walking on either side of the load pulling the tarp from ground level, is an inexpensive investment. “If you figure your guy makes $40,000 a year, it costs a 1,100-tons-per-day transfer station just 12 cents per ton for the system. An 800-ton station spends 17 cents per ton, and even a 200-ton site pays well under a buck per ton (actually, 67 cents).”

Brentz recalls taking an informal survey of users during an Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. event a couple of years ago. “Those who were wrapping bundles of crushed automobiles averaged five minutes by one man per bundle,” he says.

Both reusable tarps and disposable netting are available to secure loads. “The mechanical tarping systems involve both capital expenditures and maintenance. The tradeoff with our material is a slight labor increase but not capital or maintenance,” Brentz says.

In most cases, the recyclers surveyed were using flatbeds to haul auto hulks. Those usually are stacked three piles per flatbed trailer. “Those who were wrapping full trailer loads average about 15 minutes per load,” he continues. “As for covering three-sided trailers, the time is even shorter. The cost to cover a 48-foot long gondola car with our most expensive disposable net is just $15—[the cost of] a pizza.”

All automatic tarp systems will show savings in productivity and reduced liability, Lowe says. Some insurance carriers may even offer a discount to companies using such systems. Beyond the basics, he says buyers should look at savings in the areas of reduced maintenance and downtime.

Roll-Rite claims it was the first tarp supplier to add a wireless remote control for safety. “We keep our systems separate from the hoist system which reduces diagnostic time when there is an issue,” Lowe says.  The company also offers a diagnostic LED light to guide the maintenance department to any issue.

Doughty says Benlee sells a hydraulic tarping system with 80 to 90 percent of the trailers it ships. This figure shows that most recyclers and other haulers are on top of the situation.

However, it never hurts to remind drivers to be doubly careful when loading a truck and to be sure the tarp is secured with the mandated number of adjustable tie-downs.

The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. He can be contacted at