Covering Your Bases

There's no need to risk life and limb when tarping loads. Today's systems reduce the time and hindrance of climbing on top of trucks to cover loads.

Typically, tarping systems include either a fabric, canvas, plastic cover or a fixed mesh screen that is mounted to permanent lids and uses a mechanism to fold the tarp over the truck opening. Transfer trucks also can use doors or gates that are permanently affixed to the side of the trailer to enclose waste. Doors can be opened automatically or manually with a hand-crank system.

In a semi-automatic system, the tarp is wrapped onto a roll and is located at the head of the trailer or on an extendable tower. When the driver needs the tarp, he grabs a pull cord to extend it. Once extended, the pull cord is tied down at the end of the box. The tarp typically retracts using a spring-loaded system.

A fully automatic tarping system uses hydraulic controls placed at the rear of the cab or the head of the trailer to extend the tarp with mechanical arms. On some systems, the arm length can be adjusted. Systems with fixed arms clear the tallest box that will be picked up.

When choosing your tarp, consider price, maintainability and personal preference. Here's how a few operations chose their tarping systems.


With its fleet of 12 roll-off trucks, Jet-A-Way, Roxbury, Mass., focuses on construction and demolition material removal throughout Boston and its surrounding suburbs. The company handles between 80 to 90 moves per day from 10- to 40-cubic-yard boxes covered by a semi-automated system with a tower-mounted rolled tarp that is manually extended over the load.

Dan Dellamano, driver division manager, says both state law and driver safety affected his tarp selection. "While all containers need to be secured and tarped in Massachusetts, we had several guys get hurt from falling off the cans or walking on the debris [when they were putting] on the manual canvasses," he says. Dellamano looked at systems with arms on the side but had concerns that vision to the back of the truck would be blocked. Because Jet-A-Way also operates a transfer station, Dellamano noted what other haulers were using. Eventually, he chose a semi-automated system.

Tarping, Dellamano says, is serious business. "We actually have fired people [over] it," he says. "But if the [driver] gets caught without a tarp on the load, the fine is on them, and it is substantial — $200 to $300, depending on which town you are in."

Lancaster County, Pa.

The Lancaster County Solid Waste Authority (LCSWA) uses a fleet of four trucks to move 20- to 40-yard roll-off boxes between its sites. Additionally, four tri-axle dump trucks transfer ash from the waste-to-energy (WTE) plant to the landfill, and a 45-foot transfer trailer moves crushed wood from the landfill to the WTE plant. Automatic tarping systems, including an electric tarp that rolls flat over the length of the trailer, are used on all equipment.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection requires all loads to be tarped. So the LCSWA "progressed to [automated tarps] because they're more efficient and much safer for the drivers," says Robert Zorbaugh, operations manager. "They are expensive because they need adjustment and operators must take care of them," he says. "But the benefits with the automated systems are well worth the expense."

City of Dallas

The city of Dallas operates 32 transfer trailers to move refuse to the landfill. Trailers are top-loaded and equipped with flip-top covers consisting of a hinged rigid frame and fine mesh cover. Newer trailers are spec'd with systems that automatically close the doors with the pull of the lever. However, on older trailers, the cover is manually flipped up by the driver using a 15-foot pole.

"There is more maintenance on a hydraulic system than there is on a manual system," says Joseph Fogle, senior program manager. But workers' compensation claims have been offset dramatically with the automatic system. "Under the manual system, there's always the possibility that somebody will do something to their back or arm while they are lifting that door up," he says.

The city's tarp system also is advantageous because the covers are more durable than canvas tarps. "Tarps [would] tear and become useless," he says. Now, the city uses a fine plastic wire mesh. "If a section is torn, you just cut off a section and use some tie straps to weave [a patch] in," he says. "You don't have to replace the entire mesh."

Before choosing a tarping system, LCSWA's Zorbaugh recommends companies research what others are using. "Usually, manufacturers are happy to provide a list of references." Then, based on that information, set the system to your application, he says.

In Zorbaugh's case, the LCSWA compared tarps, then purchased its systems as part of the entire truck bid.

Read additional case studies of tarping systems at Lynn Merrill is the director of public servies for the city of San Bernardino, Calif.