5 Tips To Improve Your Loading Dock Safety And Efficiency

Loading dock managers are relentless workers. They strive to meet ever-growing productivity targets and minimize downtime, invest in new material handling equipment, and hire more personnel. Their crew adheres to an aggressive loading and unloading schedule.

While productivity is top of mind, safety at the loading dock is often an afterthought. Managers are pressed into cutting corners with safety and overlook hazardous situations. But that doesn’t have to be the reality for your loading dock.

With a comprehensive approach to safety, you can avoid hazards that impact your business’s bottom line. Keep reading for five tips to improve workplace conditions, safety, and efficiency at your loading dock.

1. Have routine preventative measures

It’s better to proactively ensure safety than reactively mitigate accidents. A preventative routine safety plan can help you maintain efficiency and productivity daily. Remember the Five-P Principle: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

With safety top-of-mind, you can save time and money, reduce the risk of equipment failure, and minimize downtime for maximum productivity. A preventative plan should consider the unique needs and design of your loading dock. These universal steps are an excellent place to start enhancing your safety and productivity:

  • Schedule regular inspections for all equipment in your warehouse – from pallet racks to material handling vehicles. An experienced partner can help with uncovering and addressing potential risks.
  • Take proper care of your forklift batteries. On average, a forklift battery lasts a single-shift operation for five years. Careful maintenance can extend battery life up to ten years and make the most out of your investment.
  • Keep pedestrians safe around vehicles. Use corner mirrors, curved ceiling mirrors, or trained signal personnel in areas with low visibility.
  • Ensure that all work areas are free of obstructions and adequately lit. Place containers, tools and other materials out of walking and driving areas. Do not use the loading dock as a storage area.
  • Have a crew responsible for general housekeeping at your loading dock. It’s important to keep floors and dock plates dry at all times dry, cleaning up any spills.
  • Combine the steps into a checklist for structured, repetitive maintenance. Check out the Safety Assessment Checklist in our free Loading Dock Safety Guide.

2. Use dock seals and shelters to keep weather conditions at bay

Danger lurks inside and outside your loading dock. A common contamination threat occurs when the trailer doors are unsealed in a non-climate-controlled environment. An open door exposes your inventory to external influence and fluctuating temperatures. 

Loading dock seals and shelters help you keep any environmental conditions outside your loading dock. Proper dock seals take care of several safety aspects:

  • They help maintain climate control. Living in California, you know the importance of moderate temperatures and proper airflow at the loading dock. Sudden changes in heat or humidity may cause damage to your inventory and material handling equipment. An effective dock seal helps control temperatures and humidity in the workplace.
  • They keep the floors dry. Fast-paced loading dock operations aren’t possible on wet floors. Dock seals can get you through the rainy season without slip-and-fall accidents. Combined with the proper footwear and warning signage, dock seals will be one of your most effective preventative tools.
  • They help with ventilation. Warehouse dock doors are especially vulnerable to high winds. Sealing loading dock doors can minimize the risk of staff losing balance or inventory getting damaged by a gust of wind.

Dock seals help to keep your loading dock safe, dry, and energy-efficient. Also, several federal agencies launched initiatives to protect the supply chain:

  • the Department of Homeland Security
  • the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
  • the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)

3. Ensure compliance with safe working practices

It’s your responsibility to ensure compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). There are several standards for loading dock safety. Start with the OSHA 29 CFR 1910.176 material handling and storage.

Loading and unloading processes have a special place in OSHA guidelines. OSHA regulation (1910.178) requires the use of restraints when loading and unloading. Moreover, there is a specific OSHA standard for drop-offs. The OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.23(b) relating to Protection for Wall Openings and Holes states: an actual fall protection barrier must guard every wall opening with 4+ feet drop.

Consider the combination of standards to stay compliant with the best safety practices:

  • 29 CFR 1910.178 general industry, 29 CFR 1926.600; 1926.602 construction
  • American National Standard for Powered Industrial Trucks, Part II, ANSI B56.1-1969
  • OSHA 29 CFR 1910.22 walking-working surfaces
  • ANSI A1264.2-2006 provision for the slip resistance on walking/working surfaces

4. Conduct training for your staff

Employee training is always a worthy investment that sets your crew up for success. If your employees don’t know how to use the equipment, they compromise productivity and safety. The training is especially critical for forklift operators. When not properly trained, they can put themselves, their teammates, inventory and equipment at risk. Forklift operators should get certified in compliance with OSHA federal and state training, testing, and evaluation requirements.

While your forklift operators may pass the training, pedestrians need training as well. Teach pedestrians to walk along the side of the aisle or marked walkways. Stress the importance of visual contact for the vehicle drivers and forklift operators.

5. Embrace loading dock safety technology

Good loading dock safety controls reap the most benefits. Material handling becomes safer and more efficient when you invest in engineered solutions. Here are critical engineering controls to consider:

  • Vehicle restraints prevent trailer separation accidents. They bridge the dangerous gap between the trailer and the dock. There are various types of vehicle restraints and their combinations: wheel chocks, non-impact vehicle restraints, automatic vehicle restraints, portable jacks, etc. Their design and functionality vary by manufacturer. When choosing a vehicle restraint, consider the application, budget, and schedule.
  • Dock levelers bridge the difference in height and distance between the floor and the trailer. They help with smooth and safe loading and unloading. Most trailers end up either above or below the height of the dock. With hydraulic, mechanical, air-powered, and other dock levelers, you can hazard-proof your facility.
  • Barriers either built into dock levelers, or stand-alone barriers, can prevent driving into the dock door when it is closed or backing off the edge of the dock when the dock is empty.
  • Bumpers may prevent backing trailers from causing structural damage to the building.
  • A gate can help you protect employees and material handling equipment from a four-foot drop-off.
  • A light communication system offers a quick visual read to drivers and loading dock staff, bringing everyone on the same page. It uses flashing red and green lights to inform the personnel about the status of the loading or unloading operation.

–> Schedule your loading dock safety assessment here. <–

Ensuring safety at your facility is a complicated endeavor. With many aspects to consider, getting started may be overwhelming. Get our free Loading Dock Safety Guide, and take the first step towards protecting your staff, equipment, and inventory.

For a structured and comprehensive approach to loading dock safety, schedule a no-commitment safety assessment. We will provide tangible recommendations and at least 3 plans to ensure the safety of your operations.

Please contact us online with any questions about your loading dock safety, or by phone:

San Francisco East Bay – Livermore (510) 379-5210
Fresno (559) 834-9500
Sacramento (916) 376-0500
Salinas (831) 757-1091

Further Reading:

4 Signs Your Loading Dock Isn’t as Safe as You Think
How Dock Levelers Drastically Improve Loading Dock Safety
Loading Dock Seals and Shelters – Small Cost, Big Value