The loading dock's importance to a company comes from its fulcrum role in the supply chain. When a facility's dock is well-equipped and runs efficiently, goods can move smoothly to and from that location. The situation is very different, however, when there are safety problems and oversights on the loading dock.

A lack of equipment, inadequate training, or a building without needed design features could increase the chances of an accident on the loading dock. As heavily trafficked areas where large vehicles and equipment are constantly present, loading docks are some of the most dangerous and potentially deadly areas of warehouses and other facilities.

Meeting safety requirements around loading docks

Many individual considerations go into creating safe loading dock areas. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) stated in a clarifying letter that its only regulations that are specifically designed for loading dock regulations regard the safe use of forklifts, employers are bound to provide environments that do not contain hazards likely to cause death or serious harm.

As Industrial Safety & Hygiene News notes, 25% of industrial accents occur on the dock. Risk factors beyond forklift operation errors include trailers creeping too close to the facility without correctly placed wheel chocks, along with carbon monoxide emissions building up and workers falling off the dock, especially when there are insufficient guardrails in place. Furthermore, employees working in a fatigued state may increase danger.

The many moving parts necessary to run a loading dock mean that any lapse in best practices could lead to increased risk. Having large vehicles moving around the area all day calls for comprehensive preparation, and the use of heavy equipment for loading and unloading those trucks introduces more danger. Keeping workers safe is a responsibility that rises up through all levels of an organization. Workers on the loading dock must have the support of knowledgeable and responsible supervisors, who must in turn be given the training and preparation to succeed. Furthermore, company leadership needs to make sure the right equipment is in place and being maintained to a high standard.

Equipping employees for loading dock safety

The following are a few tips to improve the safety of every employee on the loading dock, keeping the risk of industrial accidents to a minimum. These factors include everything from installing and maintaining essential safety equipment to keeping up with training and ensuring supervisors are enforcing best practices.

This holistic approach to safety is necessary, because a single failure can prevent your loading dock from being a secure environment for your employees to work in. A lack of adequate safety equipment can make everyday processes far more dangerous than they would otherwise be, with exposed drops presenting fall risks, unsecured machinery potentially catching employees' clothes or limbs and vehicles rolling dangerously close to workers on the dock.

While installing the equipment is a good beginning to an improved safety program, a lack of maintenance can negate the benefits. Furthermore, failure to train the workers on the correct usage of every asset presents additional, unnecessary danger. It's up to the supervisors who are on the dock every day to make sure these plans are being comprehensively applied and maintained. This is not just a matter of securing compliance to avoid monetary penalties and other legal consequences, but rather a matter of corporate responsibility.

As with any multi-step corporate priority, improving the safety of loading dock activities can be daunting at first. There is no real secret to the process, however, and it is easier to accomplish than it may appear. Breaking good practices down into a few simplified steps can guide you to improve your organization's safety performance in a remarkably short time. With the right expert assistance on your side, you can make the following steps a natural part of your logistics operations.

Start with an inspection

Determining the dangers facing workers in a particular dock environment means performing safety inspections and determining what makes the facility unique. Logging what types of equipment are in place, how those assets are used every day and the amount of traffic passing through a space will help leaders plan more detailed safety strategies.

Comprehensive checking for potential risk areas is its own multi-step process, with inspectors verifying the best solutions for each potential danger area. There may be a need for new safety railings around potential drops, or other types of guards on heavy machinery. The restraints designed to prevent trucks from harming employees in the area could also be lacking. Checking to make sure forklifts are operating safely is its own area of the inspection, and this may lead to a recommendation for differently textured areas around the lip of the dock which will help operators realize where they are on the surface.

Optimize the dock area and keep it clear

The installation of new safety tools is the immediate follow-up to the inspection, carrying out the suggestions that resulted from that survey. This may mean purchasing new equipment or changing the way the dock is laid out for use. While every dock is different and will call for its own suite of updates, there is one unifying factor: Investments made to improve safety are worth the expenditure, because a single preventable accident caused by a lack of these assets can be devastating.

Docks should be equipped with railings and guards to make it more difficult for people or vehicles to slip off of edges. OSHA's guide to safe forklift operation recommends painting dock edges to make sure they don't blend into the background. Whether driving a vehicle or simply walking, employees benefit from features designed to prevent falls. OSHA also suggests keeping all lanes clear and clean – an unexpected item out of place could lead to a serious forklift crash.

Maintain essential equipment

Any piece of equipment that fails can cause serious harm to employees. This is especially pressing in the case of moving assets like forklifts or stationary dock lifts. Companies that wait for mechanical systems to break down before performing maintenance are leaving themselves open to extended downtime – and they may be inadequately prepared to stop preventable industrial accidents. This is why proactive maintenance on the dock is so important.

Since the dock area is a location in the facility defined by heavy equipment and constant activity, nearly every asset there can cause harm if it fails. This is why efforts to prevent injuries and more general breakdowns in the supply chain must be comprehensive to be effective. A powered lift that fails could dump workers and heavy pallets of goods to the ground, while a breakdown affecting a forklift can be similarly damaging. Unaddressed wear and tear to dock doors is a potential source of major slowdowns, while a failure to check on railings and other simple safety systems can lead to individuals falling off the dock.

Train employees and instill best practices

Working on a loading dock requires specific material handling best practices from employees. The forklift recommendations tied to OSHA's standard warn drivers to drive slowly, stay away from dock edges and ensure they know how their vehicles react, considering tail swing when driving. To meet requirements, operators should be trained in the use of these vehicles before ever getting behind the wheel. While using a forklift is one of the most glaring examples of the need for good safety practices, it is far from the only one – employees of all kinds should understand what to watch out for on the dock.

Workers who are familiar with all their duties, as well as attentive and committed supervisors, are essential parts of the safe dock ecosystem. Employees must understand the best way to handle each everyday task associated with loading and unloading, and can never cut corners or dodge safety requirements. It's up to overall leadership to invest in training and managers to ensure the practices set out on paper are being carried out in the real world.

Preventing Costly Breakdowns in Processes

The many preventable accidents and injuries that occur on loading docks every year are hugely costly for companies. Even when there is no human cost and the only damage is to equipment, organizations will still experience budgetary losses. The loading dock's essential role in the supply chain ensures that disruptions and bottlenecks in production and logistics are natural results of equipment failures and other accidents.

Facility operators who have not yet considered the best ways to keep their docks operating at peak efficiency should act quickly, especially if their overall maintenance and safety programs are reactive in nature, rather than proactive. Having regular inspection and repair procedures in place for all assets will help ensure their teams stay safe on the dock, and that the supply chain stays open for business.

The costs of becoming more proactive are offset by risk reduction, as a single accident can have massive repercussions for the organization. Taking loading dock safety precautions could have averted 70% of reported accidents around these areas, which demonstrates the potential value of being prepared. Lost employee time and productivity come with severe costs, as do repairs tied to undetected mechanical problems that turn into asset failures.

Reach out to Miner today to request a quote or find out more about how to best protect the people and property on and around your facility's loading dock.

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