A loading dock area is a busy place involving lots of traffic movement, both vehicular and human. In a typical shift, trailers and forklifts crisscross the area as goods are received and dispatched, creating a fertile ground for accidents to occur.
The typical loading dock has a platform around 1.2m above the ground level which provides direct access to the warehouse. It can be located on the exterior of the warehouse facility, flush with the building, or fully enclosed. Trailers or forklifts normally back into the platform when loading goods, and it is at this point that accidents are likely to occur.
Key Loading dock hazards
The following hazards are related to vehicle movement during loading and unloading
This hazard occurs when a vehicle or trailer mistakenly moves away from the loading platform before loading or unloading is finished. The loader or goods can fall out of the trailer resulting in injury or damage to the goods, or someone else operating in the area. This can also be a problem for a forklift operator entering or leaving the vehicle.
Rolling of the load
When the platform and rear of the trailer are not on the same level, the steep incline can cause unsecured goods to roll into or out of the trailer, causing injury or material damage.
The trailer can move forward considerably under the added weight of a forklift entering or leaving the trailer, leaving room for all sorts of mishaps to occur.
Landing gear collapse
Landing gear may sometimes give way due to weakness or damage, causing goods or equipment to tumble with potentially serious consequences.
Other hazards related with forklift movement into and out of the trailer are trailer pop-up, where the trailer’s nose suddenly rises due to the forklift’s weight, and ‘dock shock’ where forklift drivers suffer pain or spine injury occasioned by repetitive vibrations that are experienced when driving into and out of the truck bed via a leveler.
Unguarded dock edges
When loading dock edges are left open they can pose a serious danger to personnel working around this area. The platform has a 1 meter plus drop, which needs to be adequately cordoned off to avoid nasty falls.
Wet floors are reported as the largest single cause of accidents and amount to 45% of all injury occurrences in the loading docks. Entry of water into the loading dock exposes personnel to slip hazards whether they are on foot or operating mechanical equipment, and is usually caused by rain in the loading area.
Oil spillage and debris on the loading dock can also cause serious falls and injury to personnel.
Making Your Dock Safe
To help make the loading dock area safer, it is important that the management and workers identify the causes of these hazards and take the necessary steps to minimize them or eliminate them completely. In fact putting in place measures to control hazards is a regulatory requirement under OSHA.
Organisations should come up with complete safety systems, rather than just checklists against individual safety hazards. The systems should then be documented and effectively communicated to personnel and other relevant parties.
Control measures against vehicle movement hazards
Barriers can be placed at the edge of the loading dock to prevent falling over of personnel or other mechanical equipment. Various types of barriers may be used here depending on the loading dock design and the specific needs of the premises.
The Verge Roll over Gate has the advantages of increased safety and ease of use and works well on a raised platform compared to conventional sliding access gates.
Restraining the trailer
The trailer can be restrained using wheel chocks, wheel-based restraints or automated restraint equipment. Each has a varying degree of effectiveness depending on the trailer design and other conditions under which it is used. Most automatic wheel chocks are designed to be used in conjunction with dock traffic light systems
Signals, including red/green traffic lights, are an effective way of controlling traffic within the loading bay as they indicate whenever it is safe (green) or unsafe (red) to move a vehicle. Additional indicator lights at each loading bay assist workers to know when it is safe to open the dock doors.
Visiting drivers are asked to surrender their ignition keys while the truck is being unloaded. This type of control works well in conjunction with traffic lights control as well as locking of the keys in a locker with signing in the register.
Apart from measures targeted at accidents caused by vehicular movement, the organisation, cleanliness of the dock area and proper working order of equipment is also important in mitigating hazards.
Equipment handling and maintenance
- Only authorized employees should be allowed to forklifts or other mechanized equipment for moving goods – they should also be properly trained on OSHA. Traffic signals, wheel restraints, and other equipment should be inspected and maintained on a regular basis to ensure they are in full working order at all times
- The loading dock area should undergo scheduled cleaning to remove accumulated debris. Inspection of the dock area should be done daily to make sure that emergency equipment is not blocked or damaged. Floors should be marked with yellow tape or paint for the identification of walkway, doorways, parking aisles and overhead obstacles. The dock edge should be painted with a reflective yellow colour to increase the dock’s visibility.
Training is the best place to start in creating a safe in a loading dock environment for your employees. In observing safety in the loading dock, all persons, and mostly the staff, should avoid careless behavior when in the loading docks, especially, around forklifts and vehicles. They should also avoid unsafe habits such as jumping from the dock platform or leaving the dispatch door open.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Lastly, protective personal equipment such as helmets, reflective jackets, and protective boots should be worn within the premises to mitigate injury incidences.
An effective PPE Program should be put in place to train the workers about the importance of it. Ample knowledge should be provided to each worker regarding:
- Why and when is it necessary to use PPE
- How to wear, adjust and remove
- The limitations of PPE
- Proper care, maintenance, shelf life and discard/disposal time
It is of utmost importance to periodically review, update and evaluate the effectiveness of PPE program.
With the implementation of the right programs and making improvement an ongoing exercise, it is possible to maintain a high level of safety in loading docks and decrease the rate of accidents. It is beneficial to all the parties, external or internal.