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Did your loading dock/warehouse area look that dangerous before the safety meeting!

Loading docks present a myriad of hazards for employees. Serious injuries can happen on the dock. All of the equipment used on the loading dock is BIG and HEAVY like forklifts and big rigs. Not to mention the overhead obstructions, wet floors from rain and poor lighting when working inside the trailers. It can be said that the loading dock could be one of the most dangerous areas of the facility. Get together with employees and review these safety tips:  According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, Whole Building Design Guide: Loading Dock, a loading dock is a recessed bay in a building or facility where trucks are loaded and unloaded. They are commonly found in commercial and industrial buildings, omics, hospitals and warehouses in particular. Loading docks may be exterior, lush with the building envelope, or fully enclosed.They are part of a facility’s service or utility infrastructure, typically providing direct access to distributions areas, storage rooms, and freight elevators. Loading docks are a hub of activity in manufacturing plants, warehouses, industrial buildings and distribution centers. In most companies, this is the primary location of movement of product in and out of a facility. A loading dock is a recessed bay in a facility where trucks are loaded and unloaded. Loading docks may be exterior, flush with the building envelope or fully enclosed. Part of a facility’s service or utility infrastructure, loading docks typically provide direct access to staging areas, storage rooms and freight elevators. When looking at the different operations taking place in a warehouse, distribution center or other loading/unloading operations, loading dock environments can be one of the more hazardous areas. Because no two facilities are exactly the same, no across-the-board solution for loading dock safety exists.

The high level of activity at a loading dock area along with the presence of physical hazards can lead to serious worker injury, and sometimes result in a fatality. It is important to be proactive in identifying potential hazards in the loading dock area, such as: • congestion and traic • inadequate lighting • uneven surfaces • equipment in poor working order • lack of safe working procedures • hazards associated with lifting devices, trucks, rolling conveyors, doors and other moving equipment and parts Along with regular inspections by loading dock staff, the loading dock area should be included in regular workplace inspections  Loading docks have an increased potential for serious injury, the following are just a few of the more common hazards that occur on and around loading dock areas:

  • Forklifts overturning
  • Employees being hit by forklifts and other powered trucks
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Trailer separation
  • Unsecured loads
  • Debris on floor
  • Chemical splash
  • Material handling injuries (lifting)
  • Unguarded machinery
  • Unguarded dock edges

Helping to Make Your Dock Safe

With so many moving pieces potentially in play, ensuring loading dock safety in the workplace can be a challenge. A safety checklist is a simple yet effective tool to help establish a foundation for a safe loading dock area.

Be on the Lookout for These Loading Dock Hazards:

Slipping or tripping on wet, oily, or broken floor surfaces

Falling off dock edges

Injuries from falls or unsecured dock plates

Injuries resulting from unchocked trailer wheels

Illness or unconsciousness from inhaling carbon monoxide from trucks

Back injuries from improper lifting and carrying

Injuries from careless behavior around forklifts and other vehicles.

  1. Keep Floors Clean, Dry, and in Good Condition.

Place containers, packaging, tools, and other materials safely out of walking and driving areas.

Clean up and properly dispose of trash.

Place oily rags or other combustible trash in closed containers.

Clean up any spills immediately.

Alert trained responders to major spills.

Follow material safety data sheet for cleaning up a chemical spill.

Watch out for dripping rain, melting ice, etc.

Report any cracked or broken concrete or other flooring.

  1. Keep Dock Plates in Place.

Check dock plate load capacity to be sure it can handle your load.

Secure movable dockboards in position, so they won’t slip.

Slide—don’t drop—dock plates into position.

  1. Take Precautions to Prevent Falls.

Walk, don’t run, on loading docks.

Don’t fool around or push someone, even as a joke.

Stay away from loading dock edges.

Don’t jump onto or off a loading dock.

Wear sturdy shoes with nonskid soles that support both the foot and ankle.

Watch where you’re going.

  1. Work Safely with Trucks and Trailers.

Check that truck and trailer wheels are chocked before loading or unloading.

Make sure drivers turn off their motors to prevent carbon monoxide exposure.

Invisible and odorless, carbon monoxide can be fatal.

Load and Unload Correctly to Prevent Injuries.

Use forklifts, dollies, and other aids or get help rather than lifting by yourself whenever possible.

Never try to lift skids and pallets alone.

When you do lift, bend your knees and keep your back straight so that your legs do the work (not your back).

Wear snug-fitting gloves that provide good grip when lifting, loading, and unloading.

Load hand trucks with heavy objects on the bottom and weight forward over the axle.

Balance and secure hand truck loads; keep load height at a level you can see over.

Be Alert to Other Vehicles, Workers, and Materials.

Don’t try to ride on a forklift or distract the operator.

Get out of the way when a forklift horn sounds.

Pay attention to materials on the dock that could fall or roll.

Wear a hard hat, eye protection, and hearing protection when required to protect against falling or flying objects or noise.

Make sure all personnel are trained in dock safety and that rules are enforced.

Ensure that locking devices are used on every vehicle at a dock.

Protect pedestrians by ensuring they are aware of powered industrial trucks in use. Pedestrians must be mindful, cautious and realize that powered trucks may, improperly, neglect to yield to them.

Mark floors with yellow tape or paint to identify walkway barriers, doorways, parking aisles and overhead obstacles.

Protect people traveling through your facility from sharp corners and from falling off dock edges. Place padding or guards around sharp corners and dock barricades on open dock edges.

Put an inspection program in place to review palletized materials. If pallets are defective, the product should be moved to a safe pallet.

Review warehouse ergonomics. Adjust the height of conveyors to eliminate lower back stress. Place heavier products at knee- to chest-high levels. Limit the amount of weight a worker must carry and allow for assisted lifting from other workers.

Install guards on conveyor sprockets, gears and rollers. All pinch points must be protected and labeled.

Use plastic or metal banding to secure product to pallets for transportation or storage.

Shrink-wrap loose product for transport or storage. It is very important to secure small items that might fall through the overhead guard of a lift truck.

Clean out dock areas periodically to remove accumulated debris.

Only allow documented O H & S -trained and authorized employees to operate powered hand trucks, hand jacks or forklifts.

Inspect the dock area daily to ensure that emergency equipment is not blocked or damaged.

Paint the dock edge a reflective yellow to provide a better view of the dock.

Verify that ladders from the dock floor to the dock meet O H & S  specifications.

Ensure that proper illumination for exit routes comply with the regulations.

Identify and mark overhead hazards such as pipes, doors and electric wires.

Prohibit dock jumping, which can lead to serious ankle, knee and back injuries.

Make sure that dock plates and boards are designed for the loads and lift trucks used.

Always inspect the floors of trailers and trucks before a forklift or pallet jack is driven onto them.

Always inspect the landing gear and place trailer stabilizing jack stands under trailers that are spotted at a dock.

Always make sure dock levelers are returned to the stored position after being used below dock. This will eliminate a “void in the floor” and help prevent forklift cross traffic accidents.

Provide a dock seal or dock shelter to keep rain and snow off loading docks which can cause slippery surfaces.

Dock Safety Devices

Training is the primary means of keeping your employees safe in a loading dock environment. There are many mechanical devices that, if used and installed properly, can help reduce potential hazards in these areas.

Wheel Chocks and Rear Impact Guard Locking Devices

One common loading dock accident occurs when drivers mistakenly pull away while a powered industrial truck is still inside the trailer. Another frequent problem is “trailer creep,” which happens when trailers gradually move away from the dock because of the ongoing impact and momentum of forklifts traveling in and around them. Standard practice has been to use wheel chocks to prevent this from happening but rear impact guard (RIG) locking devices have since proved to be the better solution. Chocks have been found to provide insufficient pullout resistance. They may slip on the ground and placing the chocks presents a hazard in itself to the employee. Chocking also lacks an embedded communication system to let the truck driver, powered industrial truck operator and dock personnel know they are in place. RIG-based locking devices feature a full rotating hook that automatically locks to the trailer’s RIG. This design prevents many types of trailer separation. Most RIG-based restraints also incorporate communications systems that indicate when they are engaged and when it is safe to load and unload the trailer.

Dock Boards

These steel or aluminum ramps are used to bridge the gap between the truck trailer and the loading dock so that pallet jacks or forklifts may move product in and out of the trailer. Employees should be trained on the proper and safe use of dock boards. Poorly placed dock boards may cause the forklift and or loads to overturn. Dock boards are generally portable but typically require the use of a forklift to move them. They are used in more industrial and heavier load environments.

Dock Plates

Dock plates are a smaller and more portable equivalent of the dock board. They may be constructed of aluminum, steel or polyethylene and do not have the weight capacity of the dock board. When using hand trucks or pallet trucks, a dock plate may be in order.

Dock Levelers

Dock levelers are items that also bridge the gap between loading docks and trailers; however, the dock leveler also helps correct the height difference between loading docks and trailers. Dock levelers are permanent devices that are operated either by hand (mechanical) or by hydraulics.

Dock Signaling Devices

A technology that is available is the use of signaling devices that indicate that a person or powered industrial truck is in the trailer or that the trailer is properly secured and forklift traffic can enter the trailer.


Guarding devices are essential to loading dock safety. Examples of guarding devices are guard rails, bollards, dock barricades and stops. A safe loading dock will find guardrails being used to separate pedestrian traffic from the production traffic of the loading dock. They can also be used in open docks with no trailer to prevent personnel from falling off the dock edge. In addition, guard rails can be used to protect stationary equipment or machinery and structures from accidental impacts from forklifts. Bollards serve much the same purpose but are used to protect building corners or where space around an area is limited. When placed correctly the bollard will keep a forklift from damaging a structure more severely. Another guarding item commonly found are stops. Stops are steel plates placed along raised locations in a warehouse or loading dock intended to keep personnel and forklifts from falling over the edge of a raised area.

Terry Penney

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