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Loading Dock Safety

The loading dock is one of the busiest and most dangerous areas in any warehouse. While the frequency of accidents in dock areas is usually lower than in other areas of the facility, the severity of injures related to loading dock accidents can be very high.

Injuries sustained when lift trucks fall from docks or when pedestrians are struck by a falling load can be very serious and sometimes fatal. Using the proper restraining equipment, enforcing safe work practices and training employees on loading dock hazards will help prevent these accidents.

Secure Trailers to Docks

One of the most serious hazards associated with loading docks is trailer creep, also known as trailer walk or dock walk, which occurs when the trailer separates from the dock. Make sure all trailers are restrained during loading and unloading operations. The most common form of restraint is wheel chocks, which are wedge-shaped blocks placed in front of the rear wheels of the trailer.

Use Wheel Chocks

When used correctly, wheel chocks prevent trailer creep by limiting the forward movement of the trailer. Lack of traction between the chock and the pavement from rain, snow or ice may cause the chock to slip. Dock areas should be frequently cleared of snow and ice to maintain adequate traction.

Many companies assume that providing wheel chocks at each dock and posting signs reminding drivers to use them is enough to prevent an accident. However, it's important to still check that chocks are in place before entering the trailer.

Management should regularly inspect trailers to determine if chocks are being used and reinforce their importance with forklift operators. Spare chocks should be kept on hand in case they are damaged or stolen.

Other Vehicle Restraint Systems

Additional vehicle restraint systems include rear impact guard restraint systems and automatic rear wheel engagement systems. These systems all designed to be used in place of wheel chocks. However, wheel chocks should still be available on docks in case the trailer is incompatible with the restraint.

For instance, if a trailer's rear impact guard is damaged, a rear impact guard restraint may be rendered useless. All dock employees should be trained on the safe use and maintenance of restraint systems.

Prevent Falls

Employees can also be injured when they fall from the edge of the loading dock. While this is generally not an issue when the doors are closed, many doors remain open during summer months to cool the building.

To prevent employees from falling, screens or gates should be installed across the dock opening. If this isn't possible, stations and chains or a 4-inch wide yellow strip should be provided as a visual reminder of the dock edge.

Stand-alone barriers and barriers built into dock levelers help prevent forklift operators from driving off the edge of a dock. Many companies choose to engage stand-alone equipment even when the dock door is closed since even the strongest door likely will not stop a heavy forklift.

Proper Dock Lighting

Due to the large volume of pedestrian and forklift traffic around loading docks, adequate lighting is important. This will help reduce the risk of employees being struck by forklifts. It will also make it easier to see spills and debris (e.g., nails from pallets, splinters).

In addition to dock area lighting, lift trucks used to load and unload trailers should be equipped with spotlights. Dock-mounted lights should be available to supplement lift truck spotlights, and to provide adequate lighting during manual loading and unloading using pallet jacks, hand trucks or other material handling equipment.

Cleaning Procedures

Clean all dock areas regularly. Make sure docking areas are clear of debris, spills and ice. This will help decrease the risk of a slip, trip or fall.

Employee Training

While most companies provide adequate training to forklift operators, many do not provide training to other employees who work in the area. Some items that should be addressed during loading dock safety training include:

  • Pedestrians should not be allowed in trailers while a forklift is loading or unloading.
  • Employees should perform a visual inspection of the trailer prior to entry by a forklift. If floorboards are damaged, a forklift should not be driven into the trailer.
  • Specific areas should be designated for the storage of used pallets, containers and trash. The stacked height of pallets should not exceed 8 feet per recommendations from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA.)
  • Forklift operators and pedestrians should take extra caution when handling large loads that obstruct the operator's view, since forklifts cannot drive in reverse while loading a trailer.

Employees should not climb on or jump from docks and should not place any part of their bodies between the trailer and dock door. If employees need to climb down into the dock area, ladders or stairs should be provided.

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