A loading dock or loading bay is an area of a building where goods vehicles are loaded and unloaded. They are commonly found on commercial and industrial buildings, and warehouses in particular, and may be exterior, flush with the building envelope, or fully enclosed.
Loading docks produce a quarter of all warehouse injuries
Loading docks can be dangerous with approximately 25 percent of all reported warehouse injuries occurring on loading docks. For each incident there are hundreds of near misses that occur. The National Safety Council reports that forklift accidents cost employers an average of $48,000 per single work-related injury and $1,390,000 per death.
One of the causes of dock injuries includes truck separation from the dock and falls from the dock, particularly when a forklift backs off the platform and falls on the operator. Since these incidents may cause serious injuries and fatalities, effective safety measures around loading docks are critical. However, they are often preventable with the right training, processes and systems in place.
Minimising hazards for workers
Accidents and injuries occur when workers work in unsafe environments and practice unsafe behaviours.
Pedestrians are the main victims in loading dock injuries and fatalities so it is essential to focus on ways to prevent these incidents so let’s start by addressing pedestrian safety.
Ask yourself this question:
Are pedestrians in the vicinity of the drive approach as semi- trailers enter and exit the loading dock area?
As a facilities manager or worker on a loading dock, you understand that danger lurks around every corner – inside and outside the building. Whether its trucks entering the drive approach, or material handlers loading and unloading trailers, a busy loading dock poses a number of threats to workers. Coupled with the lack of visibility by drivers, combined with ambient noise masking the sound of trucks backing up, can be hazardous Firstly, ensure that dock workers:
- wear personal protective equipment such as sturdy safety shoes or boots, gloves, hard hats, ear plugs, eye protection, dust masks, back supports, and climate-appropriate clothing as needed.
- are trained on the dangers present in the dock area, and that training should be refreshed.
- have access to First aid kits which should be positioned close to the dock, and
- inform management to forklift drivers to material handlers or packers, where the first aid equipment is, and how to use it.
Consider these loading dock hazards and ways to manage them
Understanding the possible hazards and risks associated with the work activities is crucial in taking steps to minimise and manage or prevent workplace incidents and accidents. The first step to protecting workers is by identifying potential hazards that exist in and around your loading dock. Activities such as:
Shifting trailer loads which can fall out on receiving workers or truckers. In transit, a truck load can shift, pallets can break or slide. Opening the door to a trailer can be dangerous, since a busted pallet could spill if positioned against the trailer door. Ensure that the truck is adequately choked and restrained, before the truck trailer doors are opened
Slip trip fall accidents are a major issue and the most common type of injury. Ensure that spills such as water or oils from a forklift stand on the dock floor are cleaned immediately, even if it means interrupting a truck unloading or shipping cycle to get the hazard reduced. Always be aware of footing on the floor, in the trailers, and on the dock plate.
Workers can fall from the edge of the dock and can result in serious injuries, even fatalities. To manage this hazard, keep your dock doors closed or barricaded when not in use. If the doors need to remain open, you can add a barricade to them such as a safety gate or folding safety gate to help prevent falls.
Truck drivers can back into workers between the dock and the truck a practice is extremely dangerous. If a worker must be in the space between the trailer and dock, be sure the driver kills the engine, chocks the truck, and exits.
Back injuries are prevalent at loading docks when workers are in a hurry, or do repetitive tasks.
Train workers in proper lifting techniques. If you are palletising or de-palletising consider ergonomic equipment such pallet positioners.
Forklift drivers are blind when backing out of trailers, which could be reckless when busy. This is where dome mirrors, backing alarms, rear-view mirrors, or motion sensors can enhance the safety of your dock operation.
Pedestrians may enter trailers when forklifts are operations. Under no circumstances should a pedestrian be inside the same trailer while a lift truck is either unloading or loading. The odds of crushing a pedestrian escalate greatly in confined spaces.
Forklifts often fall off the edge of docks which is a lethal type of accident. Don’t allow drivers to leave your dock without clearing them. Also, close doors as soon as the job is finished. Train and re-train your drivers about the dangers involved with this situation.
Stacking loads is a common source of dock injuries when shippers rush to manually palletise loads for outbound trucks. While safe load stacking is critical in all areas of an industrial operation, injuries are often incurred. Once a pallet is finished, it should be checked for stability. Once satisfied, banding or shrink wrapping can help secure the pallet load.
Trailer and Forklift operational hazards or dangers
The most common causes of dock accidents involve the semi-trailer. These could include:
- leaving the dock unexpectedly, which can result in the lift truck falling to the ground.
- early departure, when a truck driver mistakenly drives away while a lift-truck operator is entering, leaving or still inside the trailer. Or
- Another cause is trailer creep, when a trailer moves substantially under the weight of a lift truck entering and exiting a trailer.
- Landing-gear collapse is another cause of dock accidents, where weak or damaged landing gear gives way, causing the trailer to pitch forward or to the side.
- Trailer pop-up, another cause, occurs when the weight of a forklift entering the rear of the trailer causes it to move forward and drop, causing the nose of the trailer to suddenly rise.
- Similarly, trailer upending, when the weight of the forklift sends the trailer’s nose down, causes the rear end to move up and away from the building.
While we have discussed the trailer and forklift operational hazards there is a human factor too. Forklift operators also may experience “dock shock,” which is pain or spine injury resulting from long-term, repetitive vibrations. It can occur as operators enter and leave trailer beds via a leveller.
A Strategy for Safety
When reviewing loading dock hazards having a systematic safety strategy in place can help reduce the potential for these types of workplace incidents and accidents. A loading-dock safety strategy can improve workplace safety
A systems-based approach uses a standardised set of management steps that are sequential and may be applied to any major undertaking. This dictates that principal objectives, strategies, and tactics are established to promote effective response management and consistency.
Once used with other safety equipment and safe operational procedures, you can create built-in safety checks simply by adhering to a specific order of operations. Your system might be as basic as following an ordered checklist when using equipment. Or you might choose equipment that interlocks or interconnects with other dock-safety components, ensuring that each step in your process is safely completed before beginning the next