If your workplace's loading dock area is poorly designed, it will force your lift truck drivers to engage in a lot of risky behavior, such as:

  • Navigating their forklift among dozens of hurried warehouse workers
  • Making sharp turns with a full load because it's the only way to get to the dock where the trailer is waiting
  • Turning corners without being able to see around them

Whether you’re building a loading dock from scratch or renovating one you inherited from a previous business, it’s important to make sure it’s designed with lift truck drivers in mind. Doing so can help reduce congestion and mitigate the risks that tend to plague loading dock environments.

What Matters to Lift Truck Drivers?

Lift trucks drivers have one main priority: getting the job done safely and efficiently.

But the loading dock environment presents drivers with plenty of hazards that make this challenging:

  • Heavy pedestrian traffic
  • Other lift trucks
  • Blind corners
  • Intersections
  • Tight turns
  • Driving in reverse

(Learn more in 4 Major Forklift Hazards Near Loading Docks.)

The Five-P Principle is an engineering doctrine that applies to just about everything we do, including dock efficiency. It stands for Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. For drivers to be able to move product safely and efficiently around the loading docks, it’s essential to plan ahead and design a loading dock that takes their unique requirements into consideration.

Designing a Loading Dock that Works for Drivers

There are a number of key things employers can do to make their loading dock a safe and efficient place for drivers – without breaking the budget.

Keep Trucks and Pedestrians Separate

Pedestrian traffic causes two main problems for lift truck drivers: they increase congestion and they decrease efficiency.

While it's certainly not practical to eliminate pedestrian traffic in the dock area, it's prudent to design it so that circulation areas for forklifts and pedestrians are clearly demarcated and separated.

One way to achieve this is to paint the desired traffic flows with clear lines indicating where pedestrians can (and cannot) walk. You could also install safety barriers, though this is not feasible for every workplace.

Whatever method you use, giving drivers a clear space lets them concentrate more on moving their loads safely and less on distracting pedestrian traffic.

Automate Intersections

Intersections are risky for drivers, who could find themselves suddenly face-to-face with pedestrians or other drivers. They're some of the most dangerous areas in a warehouse, but they can be made safer by installing automatic doorways that lock pedestrians out of the intersection when the forklift crosses.

For added safety, you can consider using a light indicator signal for both parties: green when it's safe to cross, red when it isn't.

Consolidate Collection Points

Collection points are known to be high-risk areas, and perhaps the most effective way to deal with this is to reduce the number of them. By consolidating product pickup points, you can reduce the amount of lift truck traffic (and intersections) around the loading dock.

If there simply isn’t enough space for this kind of consolidation, your workers should receive comprehensive training in how to access these points and avoid forklift traffic.

Consider Mirrored Corners

Forklift drivers dread corners. They're common spots for collisions, and they know all too well why that is. Taking a corner safely is very difficult when you can't see what's on the other side of it.

A little strategic planning can fix that. Industrial safety mirrors and domes are one of the most effective and cost-efficient methods for preventing collisions between lift trucks. They're often shatter-resistant and weatherproof, so they can last a while, even with everything your workers will put them through.

There are several things to consider when including corner mirrors in your loading dock and warehouse design:

  • Types of vehicles used in the space
  • Pedestrian movement
  • How aisles intersect
  • Typical traffic flow and patterns
  • Surface the mirror will be mounted to

For example, standard mirrors tend to blend into the background of outdoor loading dock areas as forklifts exit the trailer. Convex mirrors offering a 160-degree view and hi-vis safety borders (to draw the driver's eye to the mirror) can help reduce the risk of accidents.

Allow Sufficient Room Behind Loading Ramps

Here’s a shocking statistic: every three days, a worker is killed in a forklift accident. And part of the problem is that there are just so many forklifts in the same area of a loading dock.

Making sure there is a forklift traffic aisle behind the loading ramps that’s a minimum of 15 feet wide can help address some of this risk. The aisle offers drivers better visibility, allows sufficient space to maneuver the vehicle behind trailers, and gives drivers a bit of extra space when other drivers are moving parallel to the dock face behind them. It also permits drivers to drive straight on to dock levelers, reducing the risk of injury and stress on the equipment.

Invest in an Effective Communication System

Last (but certainly not least), any good loading dock design should include clear communication signals for lift truck drivers.

Even something as simple as red and green signal lights can let workers know when it's safe to move onto a trailer and when they should hold back. Far too many accidents happen because lift trucks board too early, and a small solution like this is all it would take to prevent it.

Conclusion

Lift truck drivers perform key functions in the loading dock, but these work areas aren’t always designed for their needs. Talk to your drivers to find out what’s working and what isn’t. Consider re-designing parts of the loading dock or warehouse to support them in doing their job safely and more efficiently.