Loading Dock Safety

Loading docks are a hub of activity in warehouses and distribution centers. In most companies, this is the primary location of movement of product coming into and moving out of a facility. A loading dock is a recessed bay in a facility where trucks are loaded and unloaded. They are commonly found at manufacturing plants, warehouses and other industrial buildings. Loading docks may be exterior, flush with the building envelope or fully enclosed. Part of a facility's service or utility infrastructure, loading docks typically provide direct access to staging areas, storage rooms and freight elevators. When looking at the different operations taking place in a warehouse, distribution center or other unloading operation, loading dock environments can be one of the more hazardous areas.

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The OSHA regulation specific to loading dock safety is found in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.176 material handling. The majority of all regulations for the loading dock environment are actually directed to the operation and design of forklifts used on loading docks. Forklift safety regulations are referenced in the general industry standard, 29 CFR 1910.178 and construction standard 29 CFR 1926.600; 1926.602 and Part II, ANSI B56.1-1969 "American National Standard for Powered Industrial Trucks". To ensure a safe loading dock environment, safe operation of forklifts must be maintained. Forklift operators are required to be trained as operators to help in this effort. See Quick Tips #106: Forklift Operator Training for those requirements. OSHA regulations for machine guarding found in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.211 should also be applied. Other standards that can apply to loading dock safety are slips, trips and falls, which can be found in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.22 walking-working surfaces and the ANSI A1264.2-2006 provision for the slip resistance on walking/working surfaces.


Dock Safety Devices
Training is the primary means of keeping your employees safe in a loading dock environment. There are many mechanical devices that if used and installed properly, can help reduce potential hazards in these areas.


Wheel Chocks
Wheel chocks are an essential safety device used for securing the wheels of tractor trailers delivering or picking up material. Wheel chocks secure the wheels of the trailer so that trailer creep and/or movement of the trailer are eliminated. Chocks are made of rubber, steel, aluminum or other different materials.


Dock Boards
These steel or aluminum ramps are used to bridge the gap between the truck trailer and the loading dock so that pallet jacks or forklifts may move product in and out of the trailer. Employees should be trained on the proper and safe use of dock boards. Poorly placed dock boards may cause the forklift and or loads to overturn. Dock boards are generally portable but typically require the use of a forklift to move them. They are used in more industrial and heavier load environments.


Dock Plates
Dock plates are a smaller and more portable equivalent of the dock board. They may be constructed out of aluminum, steel or polyethylene and do not have the weight capacity of the dock board. If you only use hand trucks or pallet trucks you may need a dock plate not a dock board.


Dock Levelers
Dock levelers are items that also bridge the gap between loading docks and trailers; however, the dock leveler also helps correct the height difference between loading docks and trailers. Dock levelers are permanent devices that are operated either by hand (mechanical), or by hydraulics.


Dock Signaling Devices
A new technology that has begun to emerge is the use of signaling devises that indicate that a person or powered industrial truck is in the trailer or that the trailer is properly secured and forklift traffic can enter the trailer.

Guarding devices are essential to loading dock safety. Examples of guarding devices are guard rails, bollards, and stops. A safe loading dock will find guardrails being used to separate pedestrian traffic from the production traffic of the loading dock. In addition, guard rails can be used to protect stationary equipment or machinery and structures from accidental impacts from forklifts. Bollards serve much the same purpose but are used to protect building corners or where space around an area is limited. When placed correctly the bollard will keep a forklift from damaging a structure more severely. Another guarding item commonly found are stops. Stops are steel plates placed along raised locations in a warehouse or loading dock intended to keep personnel and forklifts from falling over the edge of a raised area.