Loading Dock Safety Tips
Loading docks present significant challenges for safety-conscious managers. However, with planning and preparation, workers can use the loading dock area safely. The keys to making this area as safe as possible include understanding the present loading dock hazards and creating a plan to mitigate them. These safety tips will make this process easier for you.
Loading Dock Dangers
Dangers abound around loading docks for the unwary. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identifies two main hazards on the docks themselves — slipping on wet or icy surfaces or falling off the side of the dock. However, these dangers are far from the only hazards workers face when on or near the loading dock.
Other dangers that could occur in the dock area come from the vehicles and equipment used. For instance, improperly chocked trailer wheels could lead to injuries from the trailer rolling. Forklifts create hazards both from workers acting carelessly around them and from the carbon monoxide their engines put out.
To mitigate these hazards, scrutinize the dock area. Prevent falls by installing a loading dock safety chain or other barriers to safeguard against people stepping off the edges. Where you cannot install barriers, paint the floor to alert workers and forklift drivers of hazards. Post signs to indicate nearby fall hazards.
Keep surfaces dry and clean when possible. Since many loading docks are exposed to the elements, this may not always be possible. Post warning signs in case of wet conditions outside that could cause the dock surface to become slippery.
Train forklift workers and loading dock employees on safe practices around forklifts. Plus, keep the area well-ventilated to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Even by taking these precautions to prevent accidents from occurring, workers still must take an active role in following good safety practices around the loading dock. Plus, you must have the right safety equipment to make those practices easier for workers to follow.
Loading Dock Safety Procedures
Workers need to take an active role in preventing loading dock injuries. First, create a loading dock safety guide to use during training your employees in best practices when working in this area. This training guide will ensure every worker near the dock knows the potential hazards and understands how to avoid endangering themselves and others. For training, follow the guidelines of this loading dock safety checklist for your workers:
1. Train for Forklift Safety
First, forklift safety must become paramount for operators and pedestrians. Never allow anyone not trained in safe forklift practices to operate one. Also, never let anyone under 18 operate a forklift, per OSHA guidelines.
When driving a forklift, the driver should use their horn to alert dockworkers of their presence. Additionally, nearby workers must take care not to distract the driver or attempt to ride the forklift.
Drivers must use safe practices when lifting, moving and lowering loads. Operators should know the load capacity of the forklift and never attempt to exceed that when moving materials.
Operators should also maintain speeds of 5 miles per hour or less in main warehouse spaces with clearly defined forklift paths. However, for areas near the loading dock, the drivers should slow down to accommodate more people and potentially slippery conditions.
Make sure the area around the loading dock has enough clearance for a forklift’s safe passage. Preparing the dock for safety may include installing barriers or painting the floor to make edges more visible.
2. Be Aware of the Surroundings
Teach all workers to watch their surroundings for hazards. For instance, every employee should know when a forklift or trailer is nearby. Additionally, they must stay alert to changing conditions, such as loads moving into or out of the trailer or weather conditions that turn wet, making the dock slippery.
Part of awareness includes wearing personal protective equipment such as helmets, ear protection and eye gear. Show workers where warning signs, loading dock safety lights, barriers and other visible features are to prevent incidents.
Do not allow employees not trained in safety procedures near the loading dock. Keeping untrained workers away ensures that only those most aware of the required safety practices will be in the area.
3. Use Safe Practices Around Trailers
Employees must know how to work safely when a trailer parks at the dock. First, someone must secure the trailer’s wheels with wheel chocks. These prevent the vehicle from rolling, opening a gap between the truck and the dock or causing a crushing injury.
Request that truck drivers use auditory sounds to signal spotters to help direct the trailer safely to the dock. When a truck announces its arrival, other workers must clear the area. Find an auditory or visual means of alerting the driver that their trailer does not have any workers in it and it is safe for them to drive away from the dock. This prevents accidents caused by workers in the trailer or on the dock plate.
Lastly, when moving materials, workers should wrap pallets to prevent contents from shifting and falling.
4. Lift Correctly
For any workers manually lifting products, teach them safe lifting techniques. Back braces will not provide enough support to make up for poor lifting methods. Workers should bend at the knees and lift with the legs instead of bending at the waist. Employees should avoid moving items from shoulder height. Instead, they should bring the product down to a safer lifting level with lifting equipment. If an item exceeds their individual lifting capabilities, they should request a co-worker to help them move it.
When carrying or placing goods, workers should limit the twisting motions they make. Instead of twisting the trunk to make a turn, employees should slowly turn their feet in the desired direction.
5. Train Workers on Safe Use of Dock Levelers and Other Equipment
Any workers using equipment around a loading dock need to know how to do so safely. Plus, they should have the training to identify when the equipment requires maintenance or repairs to restore its operation. For example, when using the dock levelers, workers need to alert others in the area before raising or lowering the leveler.
Necessary Loading Dock Safety Equipment
Training workers is crucial to safety. However, you must also have fully functioning safety equipment around the loading dock. This machinery augments the safety training and prevention strategies your workers use. Combined, these things minimize the chances of an accident occurring in the loading dock area. Everything from barriers, signs, lights, overhead doors and dock levelers improves the area’s safety and is crucial to protecting the space.
Loading Dock Safety Barriers
Safety barriers include gates and chains that prevent people from walking into prohibited areas. For instance, you should install a loading dock safety gate or barrier to keep people and vehicles away from the dock’s drop-off edges.
Safety barriers protect workers and forklifts from one of the most common loading dock hazards — falling off edges. These barriers should have a coloring that makes them highly visible. Train workers to never jump over or bypass the barriers for their protection.
OSHA requires barriers to protect places where a drop-off measures 4 feet or more. However, even without such a significant drop, you should still consider installing barriers or using bright paint on the ground to indicate the elevation change.
Loading Dock Safety Signs
Safety signs provide a visual reminder of the hazards present at the loading dock. These signs should never replace good safety training — they should supplement it. During education sessions, show workers what the safety signs look like and what they mean. When employees encounter these at the loading dock, they will know immediately how to avoid problems indicated in the area.
These visual indicators should warn of slippery spots, drop-offs and fall hazards. Also, signs should warn workers of carbon monoxide dangers from the exhaust of forklifts or other engines operating at the loading dock.
Adequate Lighting and Warning Lights
The loading dock’s lighting is crucial because workers rely on visual signals to warn them of danger or inform them to take instructions. Many employees at a loading dock may wear ear protection, making it harder for them to hear voices or auditory instructions. Therefore, you must have enough light available so workers can clearly see signage, co-workers, forklifts and floor markings, regardless of the conditions outside.
Related to the ambient lighting that makes the area easier to see is the use of warning lights needed for communication. For example, after you install lights to communicate with truck drivers, spotters can use a red light to tell the driver when to cut off the engine and a green light to inform them of when they can safely drive away from the dock.
Lights also play a role in communicating with workers. For example, inside the warehouse, a red light could indicate that the loading dock is not safe to enter or is not in operation. A green light signals active loading or unloading and safe conditions for trained workers to enter.
Communication lights can also show when to raise or lower dock levelers. The dock leveler creates a safe bridge between the dock and the trailer. However, if moved into place too soon or moved away too early, an accident could occur. Specific lights activated by the truck spotter can let the dock leveler operator know when to turn on the device for safe movement.
Once the dock leveler falls into place, the operator can turn the warehouse signal to green to let workers onto the loading dock to start unloading or loading the truck.
Well-Maintained Overhead Doors
Your warehouse’s overhead doors must safely open, close and stay in position as needed. Poorly maintained doors could refuse to open or fall unexpectedly. Schedule regular inspections every 5,000 cycles and make necessary repairs to keep these doors operating properly.
Properly Operating Dock Levelers
The dock levelers play an important part in the area’s safety. These devices must fully support any equipment, personnel and loads moved between the truck and warehouse.
First, you must choose the correct load capacity for the leveler. Capacities generally range between 25,000 and 80,000 pounds. However, some can support even more weight — up to 100,000 pounds.
Next, choose the correct type of dock leveler. Vertical models store upright and lay flat to the truck bed. However, other types such as hydraulic, air-powered and mechanical dock levelers sit in the pit and raise to the truck bed. For docks that do not have much space between the floor and truck, an edge-of-dock leveler may suffice. This type of leveler installs at the floor level instead of in the pit and has a smaller surface to bridge to the truck.
Always have a trained worker operate the dock leveler. This person needs to ensure that others first clear the area before deploying the leveler. The truck spotter’s signals help the leveler operator know when the truck reaches a safe position for putting the dock leveler in place.
Dock Leveler Maintenance and Repair
Make sure the dock leveler operates properly. Consider a similar maintenance schedule to the one you use for the overhead doors — you can employ this for servicing the warehouse’s dock levelers. These two devices will have similar amounts of usage, so a corresponding upkeep plan will be beneficial.
Scheduling regular maintenance of dock levelers ensures they operate safely and efficiently. Poor functioning of a dock leveler wastes time. Workers who attempt to fix problems themselves could get hurt.
One example of poor maintenance of a dock leveler happened to a truck driver who attempted to deploy a poorly lubricated leveler alone. The lack of lubrication caused force to build in the lip extender, which unexpectedly sprang open and pinched the driver’s hand, causing injury.
When a dock leveler has a known problem, tag the equipment and avoid letting anyone use it until after an expert repairs it. When workers think a damaged dock leveler is available, they may feel it’s safe to use any workaround measures they can think of. However, using dock levelers in ways other than their recommended directions could lead to problems. Conducting regular inspections of dock levelers and marking those with issues will prevent such incidents.
Improve Safety at Your Loading Dock With the Right Dock Leveler
Having a safer working environment protects employees from injuries, prevents losses caused by accident investigation and ensures productivity. Since the loading dock functions as a key component of your warehouse, you must find ways to reduce this area’s inherent hazards. Posting a loading dock safety checklist, training workers, having the right equipment and maintaining your dock leveler will all serve this purpose.
If your facility needs a new dock leveler, request a quote from us at idc-Automatic. We can help you find the safest option for your warehouse needs that meets your size requirements. As with all aspects of warehouse safety, starting with the right equipment can go a long way toward preventing injuries. Let us help you get the loading dock pieces your company needs to optimize safety.