Chuck Leon is a warehouse and racking specialist at Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS)
As a hub of near-constant activity, loading docks are frequently congested with equipment, goods and people, exposed to weather, and poorly laid out and lit. These conditions can easily lead to injuries and property loss.
Nevertheless, loading docks are often the workplace’s most overlooked areas during monthly safety inspections. They just don’t get the same attention that your lifting equipment or racking systems might get. Sometimes, loading docks aren’t even included on an inspection checklist.
But not everyone overlooks loading docks. Government inspectors write orders for inadequate inspection and maintenance of shipping and receiving areas related to loading docks.
Loading dock hazards can result in injuries and even death. The hazards include:
wet, oily, or broken floor surfaces
collisions between equipment and pedestrians
lift trucks falling off the dock or through the trailer floor
collapsing dock plates
unsafe trailer movement
unsafe manual material handling
outside pedestrian trafﬁc
The first step is training workers, supervisors and committee members on what to look for in the loading dock area. Before you can manage hazards, your people need to know how to identify them.
Next, put these steps into practice.
Implement control measures. Look for ways to optimize truck trafﬁc, material flow, the staging area, pedestrian trafﬁc, and lighting. Building a well-designed dock is important, as are using reliable equipment, monitoring and maintaining equipment regularly, developing dock safety rules, and providing training to lift truck operators, pedestrians, and joint health and safety committee members.
Ensure all staff and drivers are aware of your operational procedures and implement them daily for the safe loading, unloading and transportation of materials.
Maintain the loading docks. Keep them clean and free of obstructions, debris and stored items. Clean up any spills right away. Repair cracked, broken or uneven floor surfaces right away. In winter, prevent snow, ice and water from accumulating.
Use material handling equipment for heavy loads (e.g. lift trucks, dollies), and proper lifting techniques for other loads. Minimize the amount of lifting, twisting, bending and reaching below the knees and above the shoulders.
Involve workers who are on your loading docks every day in identifying hazards and how to deal with them. They may have practical, actionable suggestions that might not have occurred to you.
Here are 15 items to consider, based on recommended practices:
Are dock approaches free from potholes or deteriorated pavement?
Are dock bumpers in good repair?
Are trailer positions marked with lines or lights for accurate trailer spotting?
Are trailer wheel chocks used to block trailers and prevent movement during loading and unloading operations?
Are there two trailer wheel chocks for each trailer? Chocks are the most common solution for preventing trailers from moving.
Are trailer wheel chocks chained to the building? Is there a holding rack for the chocks?
Are warning signs or warning lights in use?
If dock levelers are used, are they in proper working order?
Are the loading docks inspected as per the manufacturer’s recommendations?
Do all dock workers and visitors wear personal protective equipment?
Is lighting adequate for the task being performed?
Is snow removed from the loading dock during winter?
Are the loading docks inspected outside during the winter months?
Are workers demonstrating proper lifting techniques?
Do workers know where to ﬁnd and how to use emergency equipment, such as ﬁre extinguishers, spill kits, ﬁrst aid kits, alarms, and eye wash stations or showers?
Add to this list any hazards unique to your workplace or identiﬁed in your own loading dock inspections, and update as needed. Also, encourage all employees to report possible hazards and concerns, including unsafe loading dock practices and damaged equipment.
Many free resources are available from WSPS to help employers identify hazards. These include an information sheet on Loading Docks and Warehouses (https://tinyurl.com/wsps-docks) and a video (https://tinyurl.com/wsps-dock-hazards) that can help you identify different hazards, review the health and safety threats they pose, and provide safe work guidelines to minimize or eliminate the threats.