Loading docks almost always have certain hazards present—and these hazards have the potential to be deadly. From small businesses to huge warehouses, employees working around loading docks are often at risk of injury. Organizations need to be aware of all potential issues related to that environment and do whatever they can to manage these safety concerns.
When looking for information on loading dock safety, it can be hard to find a clear and concise rundown. So here’s a list of the most common loading dock incidents and hazards and some basic advice on handling them. The list covers the most common issues, but it’s not exhaustive, so make sure to consult OSHA and your local government regulations on the subject.
- Slips, trips and falls
This is a risk in all industries, but loading docks present the additional danger of a higher-level fall potential.
- Back injuries
Lifting and carrying heavy loads can often result in back injuries. This is often due to incorrect lifting techniques and inappropriate work tools or practices.
- Forklift incidents
These can include a multitude of incidents that range from a passerby being struck by a driver for multiple reasons (from distraction to obstructed line of vision) to the forklift falling off the ramp.
- Broken and/or crushed bones
This can be caused by falling materials, slips and falls, and faulty or incorrectly used equipment.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
Trucks that don’t turn off their engine can cause fatal carbon monoxide poisoning to unsuspecting workers. Especially in poorly ventilated areas.
- Cuts and bruises
These are common as loading docks tend to be full of smaller injury potential.
- Burns and smoke inhalation
Hot trailer marker lights can cause fires, and although this isn’t a common occurrence, it’s a serious one to keep in mind.
Loading dock injuries and hazards are so varied that addressing them requires a multi-pronged approach. Simply posting the rules and regulations on the wall will not prevent incidents from happening. But engineering and environmental solutions combined with engaging training and good habits can really make a difference.
Poor lighting can play a big part in a large number of safety incidents. Loading docks and warehouses require a lot of light and sometimes a few burned-out lights or a cloudy day can cause people to miss seeing something potentially hazardous. Employers should make sure that all tasks can be performed with adequate lighting.
It’s also important to remember that trailers often have no interior lighting. Loading and unloading shouldn’t be performed in less-than-ideal conditions, and operational lights on forklifts should be used. Additional lighting on the dock should also be provided.
Slippery surfaces can easily cause serious safety incidents and water can damage products and equipment. Dock seals should be regularly maintained or updated to ensure that they are tight and that water or snow won’t seep in from the top of the docked trailer.
Adequate air conditioning should also be on the list, especially because of potential heat stress in the summertime when workers have to load or unload trucks that often have little to no ventilation and are parked in the sun for a long time.
First and foremost, employers need to install solid barriers on their loading docks. A simple chain or a line suspended in the air may sometimes work as a visual reminder (although even that is not always successful), but it certainly won’t prevent a forklift or a person from falling over the edge. Solid, strong barriers are readily available and easy to operate. These barriers will prevent accidental falls and keep workers from getting too close to the edge for any reason.
Sometimes trailers can separate or move unexpectedly, which means that securing them is vital to preventing people from falling through or being injured by sudden movements of forklifts, machinery, or materials. There are many devices that can help, such as vehicle restraints or wheel chocks. But these should be combined with proper communication and human error management solutions to ensure that the tools are always properly used and maintained.
The same is true for landing gear, which often needs to support multiple trucks every day. It has to be reliable, so it should be maintained and examined regularly to prevent trailer drops and rolls.
Some companies might want to consider installing “walking floors” in their trailers or around loading docks. These floors can move various weights and often alleviate or completely remove the need for forklifts to drive inside the trucks, making loading and unloading safer.
Fire extinguishers are a must, and additional heat dissipation systems and multi-layer foil can prevent burning from trailer marker lights.
Safe work on loading docks requires various types of training, from forklift certification and LOTO procedures to teaching employees how to secure loads, maintain equipment and lift correctly.
But employers need to ensure not only that the training takes place but that it’s also engaging and memorable. Hours of dry classroom sessions on procedures and regulations are unlikely to stick in workers’ minds. Organizations should consider different training approaches and new ways of teaching.
Companies will also benefit from including human factors in their training curriculum. This can help employees become more aware of hazards around them on an ongoing basis. Human factors training will also educate workers about how states of mind such as rushing and frustration can affect their behavior and safety.
There are many good habits that all organizations with loading docks should aim to develop among their workforce. For example, habits related to their field of vision can be critical because of all the heavy equipment and forklifts present. This could include helping workers get in the practice of keeping forklift paths clear as well as making eye contact with drivers and operators.
Small changes in behavior can mean huge differences in safety. This could be something as simple as always maintaining steady communication with truck drivers. There is already very little to no visual communication between workers inside and the truck driver, and a lack of communication can increase the risk of a serious incident occurring.
Safe lifting habits and checking lighting levels are two important parts of a safe daily routine. With so many hazards present in the workplace, good habits like these are paramount and they are not something to be forced.
If managers lead by example and embody the values and habits shown in training, employees will be more likely to follow. Safe habits are not very easy to establish, but if the culture is right, they will stick and quickly become “the way things are done around here.”
Loading docks are rife with hazards. Employers should consider all the potential injuries and incidents that their workplace could be exposed to and plan accordingly. They should emphasize the right mixture of engineering solutions and training, as they are much stronger when deployed in tandem.