You are new to the warehousing and freight business. You are excited to establish your new location and receiving your first truck. You wait with eager anticipation, like a five-year-old on Christmas, with various questions running rampant in your head!
  • Will the truck be a good truck?
  • Will the product be in good condition?
  • Will this be the start of a new future that you so desperately want it to be?
Then it happens…

The truck shows up, and regardless of how the next few moments unfold, eventually you are handed a piece of paper and asked to sign it. For me, this occurred the first time with a non-English speaking driver. I had so many questions, yet it was pointless to ask them because the only person in the whole warehouse that knew what was going on couldn’t speak English! I signed the paper and off he went. The questions still whirled in my head.

  • What was I signing off on and what were the implications of my signature?
  • What should I be checking for when the truck is opened? If I find something wrong, is there recourse?
  • Who is responsible if there is a problem, and what is the process for reporting and recording it? Do I need some sort of proof?
  • What was that funny zip-tie looking thing on the truck that was cut off before the doors opened, and why was it not a regular padlock?

It is a fairly simple process, yet, unless you have been taught what to do and why to do it, you will make mistakes that will cost you money. Through those mistakes, you will eventually learn. But, wouldn’t it be easier to just know what to do in the first place without losing money? In this business, it is certainly not guaranteed that following an unloading procedure will indemnify you from any losses, but it certainly will help!

This article is intended to provide you with a step-by-step process to ensure that you know what to do and have everything documented in the case of an issue with the load. Let's get started.

  1. Before the truck arrives:
      1. Ensure you have all of the required equipment and labor to unload the truck. DO NOT ask the driver to help. If the driver helps, expect an additional fee to be billed to you.
      2. You must have the truck unloaded within two hours of the delivery appointment time, or the truckload arrival time, whichever is later. If it takes longer than two hours to get the truck unloaded, you will be billed for detention time. Standard detention time costs $50 per hour.
  2. After the truck arrives:
      1. Take a picture of the truck’s driver’s-side cab door. This is so that you have documentation of the carrier’s Motor Carrier Authority Number and Name in case of any issues.
      2. Before the truck opens the trailer doors, verify that the seal is on the truck and intact. Make sure that the seal number matches the seal number that is on the Bill-of-Lading (BOL). You should see that the seal is intact prior to it being removed. THERE SHOULD ALWAYS BE A SEAL ON YOUR TRUCK, although sometimes there will not be.
          1. If a seal is not on the truck when it pulls up, or if you were not present when the seal was broken:
              1. Ask the truck driver where the seal is that was on the truck.
              2. Ask the truck driver where he has been since he picked up the load.
              3. Call your supplier immediately and inform them prior to unloading the truck. Make sure that you are on the “same page” with how things will be handled if the load ends up being tampered with.
              4. If possible, ask your supplier to see if they can call their freight broker and get their freight broker to pull GPS history for where the truck has been since pickup to ensure it did not make any unscheduled stops.
          2. Take a picture of the BOL with the seal on it. Make sure the seal number printed on the seal is visible in the picture.
          3. Put the seal in your pocket if needed for future reference.
          4. Immediately document any discrepancy between the seal not being intact and/or matching on the BOL.
  3. Immediately, once the doors of the truck are opened and before anything is unloaded:
      1. Take a couple of pictures of the product in the truck for reference.
          1. Step back and show the open floor space from the end of the pallets to the end of the truck bed.
          2. Step in and show how the pallets are loaded within the truck and how much room there is between the top of the pallets and the ceiling of the truck. It can help to have a tape measure in this picture that measures the height of the pallets on the truck. Make sure the measurement is clearly visible in the picture.
      2. Count the number of pallets and reference the BOL to make sure that the same number listed on the BOL is contained inside the truck.
          1. If there is a difference in pallet quantity, call your supplier before unloading to ensure everyone is on the same page.
              1. NOTE: with some unmanifested loads, it is certainly possible that when the BOL was created, the number of pallets in the specific load was unknown and a number was guessed. This should be updated by the warehouse upon pickup, but if not, it is alright. Simply make your update on the BOL.
      3. Immediately document any discrepancy of pallet count on the BOL.
  4. If any issues with the truck are identified prior to unloading, you have two primary options:
      1. Call your supplier, discuss the issues, and come to an agreement on how the issues will be handled if you keep the load.
          1. If a credit is due, try to make your supplier send it to you prior to unloading the truck, ESPECIALLY if it is a large amount of money. Also, confirm receipt of the funds in your account.
          2. Most of the time, working out an agreement with your supplier creates the best outcome for all parties involved. Most of the time, when this is the scenario, you may have to be creative and/or patient with how you agree to work out the issue.
      2. Refuse acceptance of the truckload.
          1. NOTE: Understand that this should not be done lightly. When refusing a load, you are putting your supplier in a very bad spot. Not only will the supplier now have to figure out a place to send the truck, they are going to have to absorb the initial freight cost, plus the cost of freight for sending the truck to wherever it has to go. Aside from the negative monetary impact, this has the potential to damage your relationship with your supplier, as well as damage your supplier’s relationship with his supplier and/or his freight broker. THE DECISION TO REFUSE A TRUCKLOAD SHOULD NOT BE MADE LIGHTLY!
          2. In addition, if the truck is refused, YOU COULD STILL BE FOUND LIABLE FOR ALL OF THE CHARGES if your supplier chooses to do that and they have clearly documented the load. Do not refuse a load simply due to the product not looking like it is a great load. Only consider this when the load received is “materially not as described.”
  5. Begin unloading the truck
      1. During unloading, keep an eye out for any gaps between pallets that created dead space. If any are found, take a picture of them.
      2. Keep an eye out for any damage to the truck that may have allowed water to get in and damage the product. If any are found, take a picture of them.
      3. Take 2-3 more pictures during unloading as you get further into the truck for further documentation in case of any later-found issue.
      4. Take note of any pallets that appear to have been tampered with, especially if there were any issues with the seal when the truck arrived.
      5. Keep an eye out for any truck damage that appears to be due to careless loading or careless driving.
          1. Take pictures of any damage found prior to unloading the pallet.
          2. Communicate any damage found to the driver prior to unloading.
      6. Immediately document any issues found while unloading on the BOL.
  6. When you are done unloading the truck.
      1. Count all the pallets to verify that what you thought was on the truckload was on the actual number on the load. Record the actual number received on the BOL.
      2. Do a last quick inspection of the pallets to make sure they are in proper order.
      3. Take pictures of any damage to the truck van itself that could have caused harm to the product.
          1. Ex. holes in ceiling/walls/floor, leaks, damage due to previous transport hazardous waste.
      4. Have the driver and you both sign and date next to any notes written on the BOL.
      5. Have the driver and you both sign the BOL accepting receipt of the load.
      6. Take a picture of the BOL after all the information and signatures are on it.
      7. Take a few remaining pictures of all of the pallets as documentation in case anything is found to be wrong as you break them down.
  7. Within a few days of receiving the truckload
      1. If you discover any issues with the product on the pallets fairly soon after the truck’s delivery, take plenty of pictures and record notes. Notify your supplier with the documented pictures and information AS SOON AS you are made aware of the issue and have done proper research into the issue.

Well, there you have it! If you follow this process, you will have properly documented the condition of the load and protected yourself to the best of your ability. This will put you in the best possible position to rectify the situation in the case of an event. It will also ensure that you can keep your supplier informed of any issues so that they can instruct you further with any of their requirements.

Follow this process and you just might be able to get back into that five-year-old on Christmas morning mindset because you know that you will have everything covered!