How important are dock bumpers and what types should I be looking for based on my loading dock?

Q:

How important are dock bumpers and what types should I be looking for based on my loading dock?

A:

Given the size of trailers, it should come as no surprise that they put an incredible amount of force on a building as they back up and sit at the loading dock.

The impact doesn’t end there, either. As loading and unloading procedures take place, the trailer bed moves up and down with the weight of the lift truck – a movement often referred to as “float.” Over time, this can cause serious damage to the building walls and foundation.

Dock bumpers are a critical component to help handle this force. They not only mark the target for a backing trailer, but they also absorb the force when it eventually makes contact with the facility and during the loading and unloading process. Furthermore, properly selected and installed bumpers ensure that truck restraints engage properly, help promote an effective dock seal, and keep levelers from getting damaged.

Choosing the Right Bumpers

It’s pretty clear why bumpers are important. But choosing the right ones? That can be a little more difficult.

Bumpers come in a variety of sizes and durability levels. If you don’t have the correct size and appropriate material to accommodate the float, you risk damage to the facility and the trailer, as well as safety concerns.

There are a number of considerations you’ll want to take to ensure you’re selecting the right bumpers. These include:

  • Dock approach (level, decline, or incline)
  • Dock height
  • Mounting face conditions
  • Types of trailers serviced
  • Quantity and frequency of trailers

Let’s go step-by-step to help you get an idea of what you may need.

1. Determine the industry and the workload

Not every industry has the same requirements, as trailer frequency and load weight varies. Light commercial loads numbering one or two per day may only require molded bumpers, while more frequent medium or heavy loads require steel-faced or Nytrex bumpers to properly manage the force.

2. Determine dock usage and conditions

Bumper requirements for city delivery and cube vans differ drastically from air-ride trailers or trailers with a heavy load approaching on a decline.

If forklift loading is used, it’s best to have laminated bumpers, at minimum. To properly absorb the force, steel-faced bumpers are recommended and will help handle the float and keep workers safe as they drive in and out with the lift truck (for related reading, see 4 Major Forklift Hazards Near Loading Docks).

3. Determine whether extra protection is required

If the area is on a decline or has yard jockeys, additional protection will likely be necessary.

In areas with yard jockeys, experts recommend allowing an extra 4 inches of protection to the bumpers to keep the trailer at a safe distance.

For decline approaches, the general rule is to add a minimum of 1 inch of bumper protection (beyond the standard 4 or 6 inches) for every 1% of decline.

4. Determine the required height

Allowing sufficient height will help protect the dock and building from truck over- or under-ride. You’ll need to determine the lowest and highest impact points of the trailers, then refer to this chart to help select the right bumper height.

Impact range height

Bumper height

Bumper style

Up to 8”

12”

Horizontal

8” to 16”

20”

Vertical

16” to 20”

24”

Vertical

20” to 30”

36”

Vertical


Conclusion

Choosing the right dock bumpers isn’t rocket science, but it does require knowing the needs of your loading dock and information about the trailers that back up to it. Investing time in the planning stages means that you’re far less likely to be faced with costly building wall and dock repairs later on.

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Written by Dirk Seis
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Dirk has expertise in industrial business development through distribution and B2B. He's a confident public speaker with high-energy delivery and two decades of experience in training program development and execution.

He has experience with international business development across the US, Europe & South America. He's a specialist in loading dock and warehouse safety and fluent in English and German.

His other specialties include:

  • Training and motivation
  • B2B sales
  • International business development
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