The loading dock is undoubtedly one of the busiest and most important areas of any warehouse. It facilitates a safe and quick way to transfer products into and out of your warehouse, making the most use of freight vehicles and driving revenue for your business.
With so much activity, it’s also one of the most dangerous locations in the warehouse. In fact, twenty-five percent of all industrial accidents occur at the loading dock and for every accident, there are about 600 near-misses. Understanding the causes of industrial accidents at the loading dock can increase warehouse safety, preventing accidents from occurring and damage to both employees and your products. For the most efficient - and safest - warehouse, managers need to understand loading dock dangers to make the effort to prevent accidents from occurring.
Challenges of Loading Dock Safety
Warehouse managers have unique challenges with warehouse safety when it comes to the loading dock area. As one of the busiest sections of the warehouse, loading docks must be managed and run efficiently. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the loading docks of the U.S. freight network facilitated nearly 17 billion tons of goods with an estimated worth of $19 million in 2018 alone. It’s no doubt that American commerce depends in part on the efficiency of warehouse loading docks.
However, efficiency must be balanced with warehouse safety. In 2018, there were also more than 200,000 reported warehouse employee injuries, many attributed to industrial accidents on or near the loading dock. Injured employees also means more downtime and days unable to work. While the median number of days missed from an injury ranged due to employee age (employees aged between 16 - 24 miss on average 5 days of work compared to 14 days for older workers), this is still valuable time-off due to an accident that could have been avoided.
The report also found the most common industrial accidents range from falls, slips, and trips (approximately 27 incidents per 10,000 full-time workers) to contact with objects or equipment (approximately 24 incidents per 10,000 full-time workers), among others. Slips and falls can be easily due to dim lighting, especially in evening or night shifts, and equipment malfunctions due to forklifts can be especially dangerous. In 2017 alone, there were over 9,000 nonfatal forklift accidents that resulted in a median of 13 days off of work for injured employees. However, besides workers’ compensation and downtime resulting from employee accidents, industrial accidents can also result in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigations.
What Are The OSHA Loading Dock Regulations?
Warehouses must adhere to OSHA regulations that outline the proper safety measures for loading docks to protect employees. According to OSHA, the most common safety hazards facing workers occur “when forklifts run off the dock, products fall on employees or equipment strikes a person.”
Some solutions OSHA suggests to uphold loading dock safety regulations include:
- Drive forklifts slowly on docks and dock plates
- Secure dock plates and check to see if the plate can safely support the load
- Keep clear of dock edges and never back up forklifts to the dock’s edge
- Provide visual warnings near dock edges;
- Prohibit “dock jumping” by employees;
- Make sure that dock ladders and stairs meet OSHA specifications.
Keeping in line with OSHA will ensure proper warehouse safety, protect your employees, and avoid citations for failing to observe OSHA regulations.
Ways to Prevent Loading Dock Injuries and Industrial Accidents
So, how can warehouse managers protect employees while supporting the productivity of the loading dock?
LEVERAGE Trailer Restraints
Trailer restraints play a key role in ensuring warehouse safety in the loading dock. They work by locking the trailer in place, preventing any back-and-forth rocking motion that can occur during the loading or unloading of a trailer. This unexpected movement of the trailer, also known as “trailer creep” and can be dangerous to employees. Any unexpected movements can leave employees stepping onto open-air, cause ramps to fall off while moving heavy pallets, or result in an employee’s leg being crushed between the trailer and the loading dock.
By utilizing trailer restraints to limit “trailer creep”, the odds of injuries from unexpected vehicle movements are significantly lessened.
ENSURE PROPER Dock Lighting
Employee injuries from trips and falls can be mitigated with proper lightning. If employees don't have the proper lightning to see inside dark trailers to load and unload items, or accidentally trip on obstacles, then they can suffer injuries that could have easily been avoided.
Even if your warehouse only operates during daylight hours, the right lighting is needed for both the interior and exterior of your dock area. Employees need adequate lighting to work safely and efficiently. Remember, it’s important to conduct regular preventative maintenance on loading dock lighting, such as warning and trailer restraint lights, in case of failing bulbs.
Implement Employee Training
As the employer, you must do everything required by OSHA and the go the “extra mile” to ensure the safety of your employees and anyone else with access to the dock area. This includes taking the time and effort necessary to properly train your employees about safety in the loading dock area. Educated employees make smart decisions, which is why it’s so important to implement safety training that helps your employees identify potential loading dock hazards, avoid forklift accidents, and understand basic warehouse safety.
TURN TO THE EXPERTS
Ensuring your loading dock area is as safe and efficient as possible can be difficult for any one person to take on alone! This is why having a team of dock equipment, safety, maintenance, and repair specialists on your side can make all the difference when it comes to the productivity and safety of your loading dock area. SSE offers comprehensive dock and door services to meet the specific needs, budget, and goals of your facility!
Ready to transform your loading dock area? Contact the experts at Southern States today. We can help you optimize your loading dock to provide the best in warehouse safety, OSHA loading dock safety compliance, and ways to achieve the highest operating efficiency.