Safeguarding Cargo Against Winter Trucking Hazards


winter trucking hazards


Winter weather brings with it an array of trucking hazards. Shorter daylight hours, icy roads, malfunctioning temperature-regulation equipment, and mechanical failures associated with freezing temperatures are all cause for extra caution when it comes to motor truck cargo. Fortunately, there are some preparations you can make to ensure your cargo is not damaged or lost due to cold-weather season conditions.

Review your bill of lading (BOL)

Freight shipments are accompanied by a bill of lading, which contains important information about the cargo. Usually, it will include a detailed description of the contents so that the carrier can understand how the weather may affect the products and prepare accordingly.

For example, your BOL may have specific handling instructions to “protect from freeze” or “temperature protect,” which have different meanings. If cargo needs to be protected from freeze, it is vital that temperatures do not drop below 32 °F. A dry van with no temperature control may not be the best choice in such cases, especially in areas where external temperatures are especially low. Temperature protecting a product requires temperature-controlled equipment, such as a heated or refrigerated trailer.

Protect temperature-sensitive cargo

Trailer/container conditions

Temperature-specific equipment can be used to maintain optimal conditions for various types of cargo. If it requires a refrigerated space, make sure to use a container or trailer with plug-ins that has been tested for efficiency. Ideal temperature and humidity levels should be included in the BOL and considered when making freight preparations.

Make sure to do the following to ensure optimal container or trailer conditions:

  • Inspect the container or trailer for holes, defects, or tears prior to loading
  • Make sure door gaskets are intact
  • Ensure that the trailer or container is clean, odor-free, and dry
  • Check the temperature of the trailer or container every time you stop and keep a log

When selecting temperature-controlled equipment, only work with providers capable of issuing real-time EDI or API temperature data transmissions.


Proper packaging can prevent cargo damage and loss in transit. Consider the following when packaging your cargo:

  • Package-test your temperature-sensitive products to determine how well it can withstand anticipated rigors (weather, vibration, shock, etc.)
  • Document formal packaging specifications and retain a copy of the report
  • Make sure your testing and packaging protocols conform with the standards set by the International Safe Transit Association and the American Society of Testing & Materials
  • Use insulated containers, thermal bubble wrap, gel packs, portable heaters, protective blankets, and any other special packaging materials to help keep temperatures between 32°F and 60°F.


Handling equipment and procedures should be thoroughly documented for temperature-sensitive products. Continue to monitor regional and environmental conditions during your route, as they can change quickly during the winter and affect your cargo, especially if they dip close to or below freezing. While offloading, make sure warehouse personal check the cargo’s temperature. Make sure you are protected by a comprehensive motor truck cargo insurance policy to safeguard against liability should you take the necessary precautions and still be unable to avoid damage or losses.

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Map your route & locate facilities

Before any trip, it is important to map out your route to ensure you are prepared for terrain, tolls, and a range of other things. This is especially important during the winter, when weather and decreased daylight create additional obstacles. Do your research ahead of time and make sure you are prepared with information regarding refrigeration and mechanical facilities all along the route in case of an emergency or a need for maintenance.

Being prepared with this information can, in some cases, mean the difference between losing and preserving tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of cargo. Additionally, if the temperature drops low enough, it can be a hazard to your safety. Familiarize yourself with your route and the resources available along the way. If there aren’t any, see if you can modify your route. Try to take the most direct route possible to avoid excess time on the road.

Limit loading/unloading times

Cold weather can affect cargo during loading and unloading. Try to minimize the time that the trailer or container is stationed at a dock door and exposed to the weather. Temperature-controlled equipment can lose temperature stability during loading and unloading. Floor loading trailers work perfectly well to maximize space throughout the year, but should be used with caution during the winter.

Have an emergency plan for your motor truck cargo

Low temperatures are often accompanied by unpredictable weather, such as snow, ice, and sleet. Even if you monitor the weather closely, sometimes you may not be able to prepare accordingly. If an emergency should occur, it is important that you are prepared and have a backup plan for protecting your cargo, as long as it does not endanger your life or the lives of any other drivers. You can prepare an emergency plan by doing the following:

  • Identify heated or temperature-controlled storage locations along the route
  • Determine whether your cargo needs to be kept in motion to prevent freezing (i.e. liquids)
  • Line up exchange points where other drivers can keep cargo moving should you be unable
  • Carry contact information for the shipper and various truck mechanics

You should always carry emergency materials, but this is especially important during the winter months. Automobiles are susceptible to damage due to cold weather conditions, and accidents are much more frequent during the winter. You should be well-prepared with life-preserving and cargo-preserving materials in your truck. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Flares
  • A shovel
  • Radio
  • Waterproof gloves
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Anti-gel additive
  • A reflective vest

Contact us

Motor truck cargo insurance is a requirement in most states for protecting yourself from liability in the event of cargo damage or loss. If you are interested in protecting yourself or your trucking business from winter weather-related hazards, Call 888-9OSPREY or request a free onine quote today. OspreyWatch, powered by Osprey Underwriters will match you with the best insurance products to suit your specific needs and safeguard your drivers and your cargo this winter.