15 Best Practices to Improve Blocking & Bracing

Posted by Paul Little on 23 September 2013

As discussed in my recent blog (Using DOT Incident Data to Improve Your Logistics Safety Practices), inadequate blocking and bracing is a common problem. Insufficient or nonexistent blocking and bracing can result in:

  • shifting and falling freight
  • damaged or leaking containers
  • fines and penalties
  • dangerous conditions for those that unload the cargo
  • unnecessary product returns
  • and a late delivery to the customer

Eventually this failure in your logistics safety practices will negatively impact the efficiency of your supply chain, drive up costs and drive down customer satisfaction.  

Proper blocking and bracing isn’t something that should be left to chance. Here are 15 proven logistics safety practices designed to improve your blocking and bracing procedures and ensure your cargo arrives safe, secure and incident-free.

1. Follow Manufacturer’s Instructions
When all else fails, read the manufacturer's instructions.  Manufacturer’s go to great lengths to specify how to use their dunnage products, so follow their instructions to determine if their dunnage is recommended for filling voids, bracing containers or stacking cargo and if it's approved for a specific mode of transportation.

2. Ask for Technical Support
Most manufacturers offer advice on how to use their products, so reach out to their technical support teams for assistance.  Some manufacturers also offer free training on the proper application of their dunnage products.

3. Inspect Sea Containers/Trailers
Inspect sea containers and trailers before loading freight for sharp objects protruding from the floor, walls, doors and ceiling.  The value gained from the strict attention to proper blocking and bracing practices is greatly diminished if a nail or screw is left sticking out of the floor to puncture a drum while enroute to a customer.

4. Inspect Cargo
Check for damaged and leaking packages before loading.  Why investigate a possible blocking and bracing failure when a package was possibly damaged or leaking before it was loaded?  Establish a guideline for packages too damaged to be shipped.  And remember, no amount of hazmat is acceptable on the surface of any package.

istock 000008913449small pattern of drums5. Standardize on Pallet Sizes
Use a standard pallet for trailers and for sea containers to minimize the size and number of voids that must be filled.  This will also allow for the selection of packagings that won't over-hang the pallet and be prone to damage.

6. Place Dividers Between Different Packaging Types
Insert a fiberboard or plywood separator between different packaging types (e.g., plastic and steel drums) and between palletized and floor-loaded packages to reduce incidents caused by abrasion.

7. Determine Package Weight Limitations
Check with the package manufacturer to determine how much weight the first layer of packages can withstand.  When double stacking cargo, too much weight can crush the first layer of packages and cause damaged or leaking cargo.

8. Use Layer Separators
For double stacked cargo, use plywood or engineered separators between layers to create a strong and stable second layer for packages.

9. Secure Drums to Pallets
If drums or fiberboard boxes are shipped on pallets, ensure that the cargo is secured to the pallet by stretch-wrapping or banding.  Cargo can easily slide off a pallet if not secured directly to the pallet.

10. Don’t Reuse Fiberboard Dunnage
Most fiberboard dunnage is manufactured for one-time use. Recycle; don’t reuse fiberboard dunnage that will no longer perform its securement function.

11. Use End of Load Securement
Sea container and trailer doors must not to be used as end of load securement.  Proper load planning will ensure enough room is available to install a rail gate or another approved type of end of load securement.

12. Ask for Customer Feedback
Blocking and bracing practices often don’t improve because the shipping department doesn't receive feedback on their performance.  Send with the shipment or e-mail the customer a feedback form to measure the performance of your blocking and bracing practices.

13. Develop Detailed Diagrams
Don’t leave blocking and bracing to chance, prepare diagrams listing the dunnage materials needed and how it should be applied for each load pattern used.

14. Establish Contractual Obligations with Carriers
The above best practices are best implemented on full truck/full sea container loads.  For less than truckload (LTL) shipments or less than container load (LCL) shipments handled by consolidators, establish clear expectations for their blocking and bracing practices.

15. Determine Root Causes
As blocking and bracing practices become more disciplined, it will important to follow up on potential failures.  This will ensure that blocking and bracing practices continue to improve and keep pace with the introduction of new packagings.