Four Loading Dock Dangers and Precautions for Prevention
"Every day in America, 12 people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, nearly 4 million people suffer a workplace injury from which some may never recover. These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy. American workers are not looking for a handout or a free lunch. They are looking for a good day’s pay for a hard day’s work. They just want to go to work, provide for their families, and get home in one piece.” – Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, Workers Memorial Day
Loading Dock Dangers
Loading docks are the behind-the-scene settings for essential operations of businesses everywhere. Yet they are, by no means, exempt from their fair share of accidents and injuries. “Twenty five percent of all industrial accidents occur at the loading dock.”2 And for each accident, there are about 600 near misses.3 Loading docks are flooded with potential danger, and without the proper training, procedures, equipment and maintenance they are liable to deliver disaster at every turn. What is the best defense against such a threat? Knowledge. In order to prevent accidents and injuries, you must first be aware of the hazards and the precautions you can take to create a safe working environment. This article will survey four of these hazards and the steps you can take to prevent them from occurring.
By far, forklifts present the most danger on a loading dock. They are large pieces of machinery that can cause considerable amounts of damage if the proper precautions are not met. A study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health revealed that every year, over 94,750 Americans are injured by forklifts.4 They can tip over, pin people, and fall off the edge of loading docks, to name a few of the more frightening mishaps. Forklift accidents cost a company in many ways that are not at first apparent. Some of these costs include:
- equipment damage
- building and property damage
- product damage
- production delays
- an injured employee’s compensation
- the cost to hire and train a replacement for the injured employee
- potential OSHA fines
- potential lawsuits
- loss of time and efficiency, and the reputation of the company5
Aside from these hefty expenses, there is a greater cost to consider: the health and safety of employees. The following story unfortunately illustrates the seriousness of forklift accidents:
On August 30, 2002, a 39-year-old male forklift operator was fatally injured when he was crushed under a fallen forklift. The victim was a full-time forklift operator at a company that manufactured wooden pallets. At 2:48 p.m., the victim was using an 8,600 pound forklift to move waste material into a large, drive-in waste dumpster positioned at the company’s outdoor loading dock. The victim had apparently just dumped the waste and was backing out of the dumpster when he backed off the side of the loading dock, falling 3 feet 9 inches to the asphalt. He was partly thrown from the forklift and was crushed under the lift’s rollover cage. He was taken by helicopter to the area trauma center where he was admitted with injuries to his hip and leg. Despite treatment, he suffered complications related to his injury and his condition deteriorated. The victim died at the hospital on September 9, 2002, nine days after the incident.’ 6
The means to avert such needless tragedies are both simple and cost effective. First of all, forklift operators should be fully trained and certified according to OSHA regulations. Likewise, when a forklift is running, the operator needs to be wearing a seatbelt. Another safeguard that could have saved the life of the man mentioned above, is for employers to provide a barrier across the edge of a loading dock, such as a safety net. Additionally, a provision that cannot be overlooked is the routine maintenance of forklifts. These precautions are the solution to a very real and present threat lingering around each and every forklift.
Trailer creep is when, through the back and forth process of loading and unloading a truck, a gap is slowly widened between the trailer and loading dock. This can happen because of the constant shifting of weight going on inside the trailer. A gap harbors limitless accidents just waiting to happen. The first safety measure you want to take is to place wheel chocks behind the trailer’s back wheels, or you could put a hook on the back axle of the trailer. These are rudimentary means of prevention that must be in place. Secondarily, a dock leveler can be employed. Dock levelers act as a bridge between the trailer and dock to create a smooth transition between the two. Also, be sure to have the driver of the truck sit in a waiting area while employees are working the trailer. This will prevent any misunderstanding resulting in the driver pulling away from the dock while there are still employees or equipment in the trailer.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can build up in the air when fuel is being burned in a poorly ventilated area. Excessive amounts of carbon monoxide are hazardous and potentially lethal to everyone in the vicinity. The first and easiest preventative measure to take is to be sure that a truck’s engine is turned off when loading or unloading is taking place. Additionally, use electric machinery, such as forklifts, as an alternative to machinery that runs on gas. You should also ensure that the loading dock is a well-ventilated area to diminish a hazardous accumulation of the gas. One of the most important steps to take when seeking to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to utilize well-maintained carbon monoxide alarms. These alarms work much in the same way as fire alarms do and are vital because they are the only way one can be warned of a deadly build-up of this noxious gas.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
Slips, trips and falls are the most common among accidents to take place at a loading dock, but they are no less dangerous. Loading docks are a high traffic area. With all the hustle and bustle of personnel and machinery, in addition to the clutter of pallets stacked with product, mishaps are bound to occur. Once again, there are very simple ways to restrain these accidents waiting to happen. Primarily, work to keep the loading dock clean, organized and free of clutter. The floor should be clear; everything should have its place, rather than be left out for employees or forklifts to run into. Have clearly marked routes for forklifts and personnel to cut down on confusion and traffic. Working in a dimly lit area is another factor that can lead to slips, trips and falls, so be sure to have sufficient lighting both on the loading dock and inside the trailer that is being worked in. When a trailer is not at the dock, you can place a safety net across the edge of the loading dock to keep employees and equipment from falling off the edge. It would also be wise to highlight the edge of the loading dock with a bright paint to make it clearly visible to all who approach.
You have now taken the first step to create a safer working environment by equipping yourself with the knowledge of the hazards of a loading dock. The above mentioned precautions will greatly aid in promoting safety, but the most important accident prevention of all may be the most overlooked: awareness. Everyone on a loading dock needs to have the proper training and procedures to follow. They must be familiar with the environment and alert to everything that is taking place around them. Attentiveness and a careful attitude go a long way in creating a safer atmosphere, which is one of the best ways to protect personnel, product, and equipment. It is as they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”