Lots of hazards come to mind when we think of loading docks, like lift truck traffic, clutter, and ergonomic injuries. But one hazard that doesn't always get attention is the weather.
That's because loading docks occupy a bit of a strange place in your facility. They're both interior and exterior spaces. And because they're open at least part of the time, the interior space is regularly exposed to the elements.
This can have a serious impact on the health and safety of your employees. Rain and snow can make the floors slick and cause a slipping hazard, for example. And for workers who are dressed for indoor work, chilly temperatures can turn a comfortable work environment into one that feels like the North Pole.
Let's go over some of the weather hazards lurking around your loading dock and discuss how to manage them before they become an issue.
Hazard #1: Inadequate Seals Around the Dock Door
Dock doors are nearly always sealed, but water from rain or snow can enter when seals are either done improperly or have worn down over time.
Moisture build-up from improper sealing can ruin product and create undesirable and potentially hazardous conditions for people and trucks preparing to move goods. It can also be a huge source of energy loss, which can make it difficult to keep the loading dock area warm during the winter months and cool during the summer.
How to Control It
Conduct regular inspections of door seals and immediately replace excessively worn or malfunctioning ones.
Implement docking procedures that minimize trailer contact with the doors, as this can easily damage them and throw them out of alignment, resulting in gaps.
Ensure weather seals are on all four sides of the doors (yes, even the bottom).
To help force warm air down to workers and create a more comfortable working environment, opt for a fan that can run in reverse during colder months.
Hazard #2: Slippery Floors and Ramps
If you have kids or dogs at home, you know how much water, snow, and ice one person can track indoors. On a loading dock, this can happen due to leaking doors, but it is also often due to workers moving in between the indoor and outdoor areas.
Part of good housekeeping practices is keeping walking-working surfaces dry. Wet surfaces could cause workers to slip, forklifts to slide, and product to be damaged or contaminated (find out Why Housekeeping Is an Important Part of Loading Dock Safety).
How to Control It
Make sure there is always a mop in an easily accessible location. This will help workers take care of any slippery spots as soon as they're noticed.
Consider a policy that workers must wear dry shoes in the loading dock area. This may mean instituting an “indoor shoe” policy, or perhaps just providing mats for workers to thoroughly wipe their wet boots on.
Materials should always be left in staging areas so that forklifts and people do not need to go outside to retrieve them.
Hazard #3: Water and Ice Sliding Off the Trailer Roof
Trailers come in all different shapes and sizes – but loading docks don’t. It’s a one-size-must-fit-all kind of deal, and this can create problems for trailers with slanted or curved roofs.
You’ve probably seen sheets of snow and ice blow off tractor-trailers as they drive down the highway. The same kind of thing happens when trailers are docked at a slight incline. That accumulated ice and snow can start to slide down the roof and into an unprotected loading bay area, posing a serious overhead risk to any worker who has the misfortune of being underneath that snow and ice when it comes crashing down.
How to Control It
Dock shelters can help prevent water from running down the trailer roof and into the dock area, while also blocking any snow and ice that may start to slide. This allows workers to move between the dock and the trailer without worrying about threats from above.
Worker Training: An Important Safety Tool
It's rare to see an employee training program that discusses the weather – especially for an indoor workplace. But it's an important part of creating a safe loading dock environment.
Workers should understand the threats that inclement weather can pose to them and know how to handle them.
When possible, gather feedback from loading dock workers about how to improve safety processes related to the weather. Policies and procedures are only effective if they are followed, and getting workers involved in developing them ensures they are practical to implement and encourages workers to adhere to them.
The many hazards already present on a loading dock can be amplified by rain, sleet, snow, and ice. Extreme heat and cold shouldn't go unnoticed, either. By installing and properly maintaining the right kind of seals around dock doors, you can better control the temperature inside.
And it's not just a matter of safety. Various studies have shown a correlation between comfort and climate and worker productivity. So, by making sure your loading dock is well protected from outside elements, you're not only creating a safer workplace – you're maximizing productivity and helping employees work at their full potential.