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Top 3 Areas of Concern at the Loading Dock

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

By: Michael Brittingham, Marketing Communication Manager, Serco Entrematic

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that the loading dock area can be one of the most hazardous areas of your operations. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that 25% of all accidents occur at the loading dock. The majority of these accidents result in the dreaded back injury that, according to OHSA, ultimately ends up costing U.S. companies upwards of $80 billion dollars annually. And with staggering numbers like these, not even the largest and safest companies have any doubt that the loading dock is potentially dangerous, but with adequate safety measures to address these top areas of concern, it can be a safer place to venture.

1.) Loading dock door drop offs. With a height above the driveway of more than four feet, open and unprotected dock doorways have the potential to be an accident waiting to happen. Equipment and signage that warns employees of danger ahead to avoid driving off the dock in a forklift or stepping too far and falling are critical safety measures. In the past, chains or thin weak metal were used to ‘prevent’ falls. Hardly an effective means of stopping a speeding fork lift.

Of course the best way to prevent driving or falling off the dock is to keep the door closed. However, in situations where the door needs to be open, ventilation in warmer climates for example, there are a couple options that are effective safety measures. You can take dock leveler safety to a new level by installing hydraulic dock levelers equipped with a barrier lip. This safety feature is designed to prevent accidental roll-off and is far stronger than conventional dock leveler lips. When your dock leveler is in a stored position, the lip extends above the floor by 5 inches. This solid steel barrier stops forklifts or other traffic and avoids the all too common ‘drop offs’ before they occur. There is no bumpy transition when the dock leveler is in its extended position, the lip acts as a smooth bridge for forklift traffic. Not only smart, also strong, this barrier lip can withstand impact from a 10,000 lb. forklift at four miles per hour. Now that’s safekeeping at its best.

Another great solution is a steel or fiberglass impact barrier. A dock impact barrier is a lower impact barrier bar, generally constructed of 9/16”-thick steel cable inside a flexible fiberglass rail, capable of stopping a 10,000 pound fork lift moving at four miles per hour. These highly visible barriers can also prevent pedestrian traffic from getting too close to the edge of the dock.
When it comes to preventing accidents, it is always worth your while to ensure that each loading dock has the proper protection. Wall openings such as dock doorways should be protected as advised in the OSHA regulation 1910.23(b). Remember, a chain doesn’t cut it!

2.) The all too familiar slips, trips and falls. One of the many frustrating things when it comes to slips, trips and falls, is that many times these occurrences are easy to prevent. In 2008 and 2009, 10,000 employees suffered an injury as a result of slipping, tripping or falling in one way or another. One way to increase the probability of accidents caused by slips, trips or falls is slick, wet floors. Add forklift traffic and moving product, and you have quite the recipe for disaster on your hands.

Keeping floors dry has got to be a top priority at the loading dock, no matter what the elements suggest you must ensure that your floors are dry and safe for workers. Thankfully, products are readily available to help you achieve this objective. Here are a few product solutions that can be installed at your loading dock to help keep slips at bay.

Dock Seals & Shelters are fabric structures mounted on the exterior of the building around the top and sides of the loading dock door opening and are designed to seal out the elements and prevent energy loss. Snow, sleet, rain and condensation build up can prove challenging to prevent, however, by providing an effective barrier against the elements you can keep your dock drier and safer.

Some manufacturers have gone as far as creating a rain sealing system specifically designed to keep external moisture out of the loading/unloading area. This system mounts over a dock seal or shelter and literally wipes the water off the top of the trailer as it backs into position with its unique “wiper” pad design.

High Volume Low Speed (HVLS) fans are all about the efficient movement of air to keep employees comfortable in large spaces. The light weight blades of these large fans produce a massive column of air that the flows down toward the floor and outward in all directions before drawing it back vertically toward the blades, creating what is known as the horizontal floor jet. The floor jet produces improved circulation but also helps minimize floor condensation, keeping areas drier and safer.

3.) Trailer creep. While a moving trailer is a good thing, indicative of demand and a fully functioning supply chain, trailer creep is not. OSHA requires the use of preventative measures such as restraints while using trailers during loading and offloading. The problem you will find is some of the methods used to restrain a vehicle, such as rubber wheel chocks, are just not as effective at preventing a massive semi from moving when it is not supposed to. In the event that a truck should creep away from the dock or prematurely depart from the loading dock, it is possible that the forklift will plunge onto the ground below from the gap created, causing serious -sometimes fatal- accidents. To ensure safety measures are in place at all times, try equipping your dock with reliable powered vehicle restraints equipped with LED communication lights that keep the trailer as tight against the building as possible while clearly communicating the status of the trailer to dock attendants and drivers.

Powered Vehicle Restraints: The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulation 29CFR 910.178(k)(1) stipulates that all trucks must be restrained throughout loading and unloading operations. The safest solution is to make the trailer an extension of the facility by effectively anchoring or restraining the trailer in place with a mechanical or powered vehicle restraining system that engages the rear impact guard or the rear wheels of the trailer.

LED communication light systems provide visual confirmation of dock status for dock workers and truck drivers using green/amber/red flashing lights on the interior control panel and on the exterior building wall. These communication lights can make all the difference in preventing trucks from pulling away from the loading dock prematurely and causing a forklift to drive off the dock, resulting in serious injury.

Placing a priority on implementing safety measures on the loading dock is important, not only because of the frequency of which dock accidents occur, but also the severity of many of them. Prevention of these types of accidents can be achieved through proper equipment, staff training and reinforcement of dock operating procedures.

About the Author:
Michael Brittingham is the Marketing Communication Manager at Serco Entrematic ( Serco leads the industry in specialty hydraulic dock levelers, safety products and programmable control systems and offers a complete line of dock levelers, vehicle restraints, dock seals & shelters, energy efficient HVLS fans, ergonomic lift products, and environmental control systems. Serco is an industry leading brand owned by 4Front Entrematic.

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