From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Truck Load/Unload

Dan MacLeod, CPE, MA, MPH


Many of the tasks related to shipping and receiving are now performed with equipment such as forklift trucks and and involve little physical strain on employees. However, in instances where the freight is handled manually, there can be problems related to lifting, often at excessively high or low heights.

Examples of such manual tasks are:

  • bed-loaded trucks and trailers
  • shipping containers from overseas, where pallets not often not used


Minimize the number of manual transfers of loads.  Minimize bending to floor level or reaching up to high levels with loads.

Ideas and Options

Loading/unloading conveyors

ConveyorInstalled ConveyorRecessed
Built into truck/trailer Recessed in dock

For loading and unloading, conveyors are common since they provide an inexpensive way to eliminate considerable walking and carrying. Conveyors do not resolve the problems of bending down or reaching up to handle loads at high and low levels, but they are invaluable as far as they go.  The examples above show permanent conveyers installed in the truck trailer (left) and recessed into the shipping dock (right).

ConveyorTelescoping ConveyorFlex
Telescoping rollers Flexible skatewheel

Portable conveyors are increasingly common, either telescoping conveyors or the flexible, skatewheel style.

ConveyorPowered ConveyorPowertrax
Powered telescoping conveyor (extendo) Tugger for flexible conveyor (

Powered techniques have been developed to eliminate the need to manually pull the conveyors open and closed. The extendo or powered telescoping belt conveyor is a rather large piece of equipment used in high volumn operations. Tuggers are available for flexible conveyors.

Inclined extendo end section

Some extendos incorporate an inclined end section, which is especially helpful for unloading. Some testing has furthermore been undertaken to incorporate variable height adjustment and vacuum hoists into these powered conveyor systems. Other than the above example, to the author’s knowledge, commercial devices are not yet available with these features, but would offer great benefits if and when available.

Fork lift

In some cases, fork lifts can be used in lieu of conveyors. Again, the value is eliminating walking and carrying, but the lifts do not address the problems of bending down or reaching up.

Side access — truck/trailer

SideloadTrailer SideloadPoultry
Side loading Poultry truck

Trucks and trailers can be designed for side loading, which provides better access and minimizes travel distance inside. The poultry truck example at right shows an unloading system with a large hydraulic lift for the the truck, which permits unloading the tiers of poultry cages at good working height.

Shipping cages

Cage1 Cage2
Examples of shipping cages

An underutilized technique is the shipping cage. Multiple styles are available, some stackable and others on casters. Cages provide the advantage of enabling loading and unloading on the open floor where access is better and where equipment such as container lifts can be used.

Cage3 Cage4 Cage5
Additional styles of cages