Loading docks can be dangerous places for forklifts and pedestrians. Falls from a loading dock in a forklift can be fatal. Every year, injuries and fatalities in the U.S. occur as a result of not taking safety precautions around loading/unloading docks. By adhering to the following safety tips, the risk of an injury or fatality can be reduced significantly. Periodic (at minimum annually) training should be completed and documented for any employer who has loading dock exposure.
Gaining a thorough understanding of key terms related to loading dock safety is very important in order to maintain a safe work environment and properly train employees on potential hazards.
Dock Lock – A safety device that hooks to a trailer’s bumper when the truck is backed into a loading dock. The device is controlled from inside the loading dock area and prevents the trailer from being able to pull away from the dock.
Dock Plate – A movable metal plate that is placed between the warehouse dock and a trailer.
Live Loading – Live loading is occurring any time the driver of the truck is sitting in
the driver seat while a trailer is being loaded or unloaded, regardless of whether the keys are in the ignition or not.
Loading Dock – A platform where trucks are loaded and unloaded in addition to the area immediately inside the platform and the surrounding area outside the platform.
Mandatory Personnel – Personnel who are required to be in the warehouse and loading dock area to complete their job function, or any person who has supervisory responsibility for mandatory personnel.
Wheel Chocks – Wedges of sturdy material placed behind a vehicle’s wheels to prevent accidental movement.
Key Loading Dock Hazards and Safety Tips
Slips and Trips
Clean up any spills or rain/snow tracked into the area immediately.
Ensure that loading dock areas stay cleaned up and dry, and also ensure the application of ice melt
outdoors when necessary.
Place containers, trash, packing, tools, and other materials safely out of walking and driving areas.
Maintain floors to keep them free from cracks and uneven surfaces.
Require employees to clean out dock areas periodically to remove accumulated debris, and ensure that the dock areas are covered under the facility housekeeping plan.
Falls from Hazards
Paint the edges of the loading dock (for example, yellow) to improve visibility.
Periodically audit and verify that the dock ladders/stairs are secure and kept clear of debris.
Ensure that there is adequate illumination for exit doors, docks, handrails, and steps, as well as inside the trucks.
Prohibit employees and truck drivers from jumping from the dock level to the ground.
Ensure that dock plates are used and that they are designed for the loads they will support (do not overload dock plates).
Un-chocked Trailer Wheels
Utilize wheel chocks on trucks to prevent movement during loading and unloading.
Designate an employee to verify chocks are being used at all times.
Ensure dock lock systems (if applicable) are being used to lock semi-truck trailers in place BEFORE loading/unloading begins. Verify the dock lock system is functioning properly before each use.
Truck drivers must turn off their engines during loading and unloading activities to prevent the accumulation of carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide exposure can lead to fainting, asphyxiation, and even death.
Manual lifting hazards may exist while loading/unloading trucks.
Prior to permitting employees to lift, conduct an ergonomic assessment to determine the risk of injury.
Provide mechanical lifting devices and forklifts and require team lifts to mitigate the risk of back or related lifting injuries.
Limit pedestrian traffic in the loading dock area to mandatory personnel only.
Require high-visibility clothing for mandatory personnel (and visitors) in the loading dock areas at all times.
Use temporary barricades to keep pedestrians from walking in the path of a forklift while loading or unloading trailers.
Always check the exterior of the trailer before exiting and keep line-of-sight with any pedestrians in the area.
General Loading Dock Safety Tips
Identify and mark overhead hazards, pipes, doors, electrical wires, etc.
If dock locks are used, verify that the dock lock has fully disengaged before the driver pulls away from the dock. This verification will reduce the risk of property damage and/or injury.
If manual dock levelers are used, never place your hands or feet under the dock leveling plate.
Equip motorized lift trucks with spotlights to increase visibility during loading/unloading.
Never stand between a trailer and the loading dock.
Wear appropriate personal protective equipment while loading/unloading trucks. Minimum requirements may include steel-toed shoes, safety glasses, high-visibility clothing, and leather work gloves.
Ensure that adequate signage exists at the entrance points to the loading dock areas to keep unauthorized employees from entering.
Prohibit live loading. Live loading can lead to poor communication and may lead to the driver pulling away before employees are completed with loading/unloading.
In summary, many hazards may lead to employees getting injured or killed on the job as a result of an unsafe work environment. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure a safe working environment, and employees should follow safe work practices at all times. Periodic training on loading dock hazards, maintaining good housekeeping, and being aware of your surroundings could prevent an injury and even save your life!