Texas Tech University
Scholarly Messenger
Hand Trucks: Load Mover or Accident Ambush
By Bobby Barr and Paul Cotter

Hand trucks, also known as dollies, come in all shapes and sizes. Hand trucks move material loads ranging from a small piece of travel luggage to equipment weighing up to 2,000 pounds. Appliance hand trucks equipped with straps can move extremely bulky loads such as refrigerators while barrel trucks can move 55 gallon containers safely in and out of laboratories. When used safely, hand trucks can make the transport of loads easier and quicker while reducing the risk of back injury to personnel tasked with material handling. However, lack of training, selecting an improper hand truck, and poor planning can result in damaged facilities, broken equipment, or even worse, a needless employee injury.

At first glance, hand trucks look pretty innocuous and very simple to operate. All you have to do is put the load on the hand truck platform, pull the handles back, push the cart and off we go. Unfortunately, like most things in life, it can end up being much more complicated than that. Just like a chemical experiment, complications usually arise when we fail to plan, take the process for granted, or get in a hurry.
Here are some tips before choosing or operating a hand truck:
  1. Selection of the right type of hand truck for the load to be transported is important. Many hand trucks are manufactured to handle small, lighter loads. Hand trucks may have the load capacity stamped on the unit or the load limit may be in the owner paperwork that was bundled with the hand truck when it was purchased. If the hand truck appears to be flimsy and light weight then it should be assumed it will not be satisfactory for heavy loads. Heavy appliances and bulky materials should be moved with an appliance hand truck equipped with straps to secure the load during transport. Heavy chemical barrels should be moved with a barrel hand truck that will properly secure the items during transport. If the load being transported consists of delicate research equipment, the tires on the hand truck may need to be pneumatic to reduce the potential for hard jolts that might occur if solid rubber tires are used.
  2. Examine the path you are going to take to your destination. You may need to move obstacles in order to get through. Pushing a chemical container out of the way with the hand truck is not a good idea. Just because the hand truck will barely make it through the door does not mean your fingers holding the hand truck handles will also make it. If you move from one building to another you need to use the curb cuts if they are available. If not you may need to have someone go with you to secure the load when going up and down the curb. If there are periods when the route is heavily utilized by students, it might be better to wait until after the class change to transport the load. If you need to use an elevator, it would be good to make sure it is in operation. Consider the material you are transporting, do you really want to be stranded in an enclosed elevator car with a tank of liquid nitrogen? Proper planning may dictate that the elevator be secured and the tank sent directly to the proper floor without anyone else in the elevator car.
  3. Before loading the hand truck, check it out and make sure it is in safe working condition. A broken weld, a cracked wheel, a missing strap, or a broken securing device could spell disaster. If there is something wrong with the hand truck, mark it out of service and have it repaired or replaced before the load is transported.
  4. Proper techniques should be used when loading the hand truck. Know what is being loaded. The same size box can weight significantly more due to the contents of the box. Knowing the contents will insure the hand truck operator does not inadvertently damage the material by improperly stacking a heavy box over a lighter one. More importantly, the hand truck operator is not injured by inadvertently assuming a smaller box would weigh less. Use proper lifting techniques when loading. Smaller boxes should be placed above larger boxes unless the contents could damage the contents of a larger box. It may be necessary to secure the boxes in order to insure the stability of the load particularly over longer distances or rough surfaces. Clothing should not be loose and shoelaces properly tied to minimize the potential for a slip, trip or fall.
  5. Transport the load in a safe manner. Do not go faster than you can walk. Keep focused on the task at hand. Hallway corners, swinging doors, edges of loading docks and pedestrian traffic choke points can cause injuries especially if the hand truck operator is not focused on the task. When crossing streets, look for traffic. The hand truck operator should make sure plenty of time is allowed when crossing the street in case the hand truck load shifts and must be re-secured. The hand truck operator should maintain maximum control and at the same time minimize strain. The proper position for the hand truck operator is to have the knees slightly bent and the back straight and have a good grip on the handles. The hand truck operator should always push the hand truck and only back it up if it is necessary to maneuver into tight spaces. Never leave the hand truck blocking a hallway where it could pose a trip hazard to others using the passageway, particularly if an emergency should occur. Before moving the load make sure you have the proper safety equipment. Gloves and safety shoes could be important depending on the load being transported.
  6. Proper lifting techniques should be used when unloading the hand truck at the end of the destination. Avoid bending and twisting when removing the load from the hand cart. Unloaded items should be properly stacked and not left blocking an aisle or haphazardly placed on a lab counter where they could inadvertently be knocked off. After the transport is complete the hand truck should be placed in a secure location and preferably not blocking the eyewash and shower station.
Hand trucks have been around for a long time and when properly used can significantly reduce the employee’s workload. However, if improperly used the hand truck like any piece of equipment could end up ambushing the unsuspecting employee.

Bobby Barr is senior safety officer of the Texas Tech Department of Environmental Health and Safety.
Paul Cotter is a unit manager in the Texas Tech Department of Environmental Health and Safety.