Coupling/Uncoupling occurrences are similar to backing/docking collisions from a high frequency, low severity standpoint, normally resulting in relatively minor physical damage. However, drivers have been injured and even killed during this maneuver. In worst case scenario, a trailer breakaway can result in a catastrophic loss. Utilize basic backing maneuver skills, particularly G.O.A.L. – Get Out and Look, as well as Three Points of Contact method for entering/exiting vehicle whenever coupling/uncoupling.
Carry a flashlight, wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); leather gloves, protective footwear with nonslip soles, safety glasses and high visibility reflective clothing. Use wheel chocks to prevent trailer from shifting. Visually inspect 5th wheel jaws for open position before backing underneath the trailer. After sliding fifth wheel partially under king pin plate, visually inspect to ensure proper kingpin height and alignment. Measure kingpin diameter and check for uneven wear. After verifying proper positioning, proceed backing; upon hearing 5th wheel lock, perform a tug-test by pulling slightly forward with trailer brakes set to ensure king pin is locked. Set tractor brakes; hook up air lines and electrical connection; raise dolly legs; remove wheel chocks. Visually inspect that fifth wheel jaws are in locked position (kingpin should not be visible). Perform pre-trip inspection of all components including tires, brakes, suspension, and lighting. Use a rag to clean all retro-reflective striping, reflectors, and lights.
Always use caution when: 1. Underneath trailer; avoid head injury. 2. Cranking dolly; prevent strain or sprain injury - do not overexert; be careful of pinch points. 3. Working on parking lots, roadway and traffic areas; communicate with others in the area to avoid being struck by other vehicles and equipment. 4. Walking in/around or upon equipment; watch for slip, trip and fall hazards such as grease, ice, snow, wheel chocks, other debris or holes in catwalk, trailer floor or at ground level. 5. Pulling away from loading dock; ensure forklifts and pedestrians are clear of vehicle; ensure trailer doors are secure and will not swing out in midst of maneuver.
Loaded trailers should never be dropped on asphalt or otherwise unless there is a skid pad that will support the weight of the load. Trailer interchange operations require accurate route planning and driver feedback mechanisms to prevent trailer drop incidents. Never drop a trailer, loaded or unloaded on private property without the authorization of the property manager. Coupling/uncoupling incidents are PREVENTABLE. Although coupling/uncoupling events rarely involve a DOT violation, the following BASIC descriptions are applicable for backing and docking maneuvers.