Securing the DC

by Walt Swietlik

Cargo theft might have been an opportunistic crime in the past, but it has recently become much more organized.

Thieves aren’t stealing random cargo and then looking for buyers; they are targeting specific shipments based on orders they’ve already taken. In some cases, these buyers might not know they are purchasing stolen goods, while others might not care.

As this network of crime grows, so does the damage to the economy. An estimated $5 billion in cargo is stolen each year in Canada, according to Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) and insurance industry estimates.

Not surprisingly, there have been increased efforts by organizations like the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the CTA and law enforcement, among others, to combat this problem.

Most recently, those efforts included the expansion of the cargo theft reporting program to the Western provinces of Canada late last year. However, while the existing program in eastern Canada has seen its share of success, it won’t stamp out the problem entirely on its own.

While many thefts occur at truck stops or other insecure points, a growing number are taking place in seemingly secure areas, like warehouse yards and loading docks. In fact, thefts (or tampering) at loading docks and drive approaches are becoming more prevalent.

One common practice that puts companies at risk is when the security seal on a trailer is broken, or put in place by non-company personnel on the approach. Security or surveillance may not be as present on the drive approach, which means goods can more easily be stolen.

Minimizing entry points

Even trailers that appear to be secured at loading docks aren’t necessarily protected against the dangers of theft or contamination. In some instances, the trailer might not be properly secured with a vehicle restraint.

In other cases, a poorly designed loading dock opening creates a gaping hole in a building. These holes are entry points for unwanted pests, including rodents, insects and other creatures.

Some can even be large enough for thieves to gain access. Even the smallest cracks of daylight indicate gaps that can allow dust, snow and other contaminants into a building­—not to mention hot or cold outside air.

An automatic restraint wraps around a trailer’s rear-impact guard (RIG), securing the trailer to the loading dock
An automatic restraint wraps around a trailer’s rear-impact guard (RIG), securing the trailer to the loading dock

Automatic vehicle restraints

Restraints that automatically secure a trailer or vehicle when it backs up to the dock are the first step in establishing supply chain security. Automated restraints not only enhance employee safety by ensuring the trailer can’t be mistakenly pulled away when a forklift is still inside, they also help prevent theft and reduce contamination.

An automatic restraint wraps around a trailer’s rear-impact guard (RIG), securing the trailer to the loading dock. Some automatic restraints can be integrated into building management or security systems, providing another level of security. These automatic vehicle restraints will also re-fire into a locking position if the trailer begins pulling away from the building or there is external tampering.

The most advanced automatic vehicle restraints offer a RIG/restraint vertical engagement range of 22 cm to 76 cm. Some models can even help secure intermodal overseas container chassis, which are expected to become even more prevalent across Eastern Canada when the Panama Canal expansion is completed later this year.

Bridging the gap from dock to trailer

Vertical-storing dock levelers help to maintain security, as well as environmental control.
Vertical-storing dock levelers help to maintain security, as well as environmental control.

Once a trailer is secured at the loading dock, the next step is linking the gap between the loading dock floor and the trailer bed. A vertical-storing dock leveler is considered the gold standard for maintaining security, as well as environmental control.

Unlike a pit-style leveler, a vertical leveler (when in the stored position) allows the loading dock door to close directly on the pit floor—rather than the leveler itself–reducing energy loss by minimizing outside air infiltration. This also helps to protect the dock door from damage and helps reduce dust, debris, rodents and other contaminants from entering a building.

Additionally, vertical dock levelers improve security by minimizing points of entry at the loading dock. And finally, the vertical design makes it easy to clean or wash down the pit floor when the leveler is in the upright and stored position.

Although a number of companies offer vertical dock levelers, facility managers should consider a variety of specific features before committing to an installation. First, look for a “drive-through” application that allows trailer doors to be opened inside the facility. Opening and closing trailer doors inside the loading dock, rather than on the drive approach, allows loading dock staff to place or remove the trailer’s seal from inside the building—greatly reducing the chance of theft or tampering.

It’s also important to look for a vertical leveler that provides the smoothest path between the facility floor and the trailer. This helps reduce “dock shock” or whole-body vibration to forklift operators going in and out of the trailer, as well as damage to product and equipment.

The most advanced levelers can reduce dock shock by incorporating a constant-radius rear hinge that reduces the bumps and gaps at the rear of the leveler, as well as two-point crown control and optimized lip chamfer at the front of the leveler to reduce the speed-bump effect normally felt by forklift drivers as they enter and exit the trailer.

Properly sealing the dock perimeter

A dock seal or shelter creates an environmental barrier between the back end of the semi-trailer and the inside of the loading dock. This connection helps companies control their environment by keeping wind, rain, dust, bugs and other contaminants outside the building, while preventing the escape of valuable energy from inside the building.

In addition to the environmental benefits and energy savings that seals and shelters provide, the best systems can also contribute to theft deterrence by sealing gaps that could otherwise be passageways for thieves to move product.

For maximum protection, it is important to equip all dock door openings with a system that closes the gaps created when a trailer is backed in for loading or unloading. This includes securing the tops, sides and bottoms of the openings when the trailer is in place.

Foam compression dock seals, or full-access dock shelters that seal trailer door hinge gaps, along with a full-coverage, under-leveler sealing system are recommended in most applications.

Some of the newest dock shelters have been specifically designed for drive-through applications, which complement vertical storing dock levelers. This allows the trailer doors to be opened inside the building for security purposes, while still maintaining a tight, consistent seal on all four sides of the trailer.

Special design features ensure tight sealing against trailer sides, across the full width of the trailer top and at the corners, without interfering with trailer doors being opened and closed after the trailer has been parked at the dock.

Protect the supply chain at the loading dock

In most instances, a systematic approach that incorporates automatic vehicle restraints, vertical dock levelers, appropriate seals/shelters, and the proper sequence of operation is the best way to secure a loading dock. These products—working together as a system—enhance cargo security, protect employees, reduce contamination and improve environmental conditions within a building and throughout the supply chain.