Most employers know that OSHA requires chocking or securing trailers during loading and unloading, but many ask about an exemption for commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). However, that exemption is so narrow that it may not have much impact.
Federal OSHA created an agreement with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for the FMCSA to retain jurisdiction over CMVs. That means OSHA does not have jurisdiction over CMVs and (in theory) cannot enforce chocking requirements on CMVs.
There is a catch to OSHA’s enforcement limitation, however. In fact, there are several issues that employers should know.
First, many states run their own OSHA programs (state-plan states). Since the FMSCA jurisdiction agreement is with federal OSHA, states not subject to the agreement could enforce chocking requirements for CMVs.
Second, OSHA expects employers to enforce chocking even on CMVs if the employer’s workers (such as forklift drivers) are doing the loading or unloading. OSHA stated that the FMCSA regulations (and jurisdiction issues) apply only to motor carrier employers that fall under FMCSA authority, not to other employers whose workers load or unload CMVs.
OSHA addressed these issues in a letter of interpretation dated March 7, 2011, outlining the history of the agency’s agreement with the FMCSA. Here’s the key portion:
"...because the FMCSA parking brake regulations do not apply to companies which do not own, operate, or lease CMVs, OSHA is not pre-empted from enforcing standards requiring such companies to take precautions to protect their workers, such as forklift operators, from the movement of trailers."
In other words, if a manufacturing or retail employer is not subject to FMCSA regulations, but that employer has forklift operators unloading trailers, OSHA expects that employer to “take precautions to protect their workers ... from the movement of trailers.”
The above letter also asked who is responsible for confirming that no employees are injured when the truck driver attempts to move the trailer. OSHA responded:
If the FMCSA’s regulations do not cover a working condition, e.g., a manufacturing company that has employees exposed to this condition, then an employer must comply with OSHA’s standards to ensure that forklift operators are not in the trailer or hostler when the driver attempts to remove the trailer from the loading dock. ... Thus, a PIT operator must be trained that he or she is not to operate a PIT on a trailer that has been backed to a company’s dock, unless the trailer is properly secured or restricted from movement prior to boarding.
The bottom line is that even though OSHA cannot enforce wheel chocking requirements on CMVs, that limitation applies only to CMVs operated by a company under FMSCA jurisdiction. Other employers (like warehouses and manufacturing facilities) not under FMCSA jurisdiction must still protect workers from unexpected trailer movement.
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