Every loading dock is different, but they all have one thing in common: the potential for utter tragedy.
About a quarter of all industrial accidents occur on the loading dock – and for each one, there are an estimated 600 near misses (learn more about Near Misses: What They Are and Why You Should Report Them).
Forklifts are the most present danger on the dock, and they’re involved in injuring over 94,750 and killing over 100 American workers every year.
Some of these accidents sound downright horrific – and they are. But it's only by recognizing the severity of these hazards that you will be able to properly prepare your workers to manage them.
Awful (But Not Uncommon) Dock Accidents
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about these loading dock catastrophes is that they really aren’t all that rare. While we’d like to think that nearly all loading dock injuries are ergonomic strains or a little slip or trip, that’s unfortunately not the case.
Let’s look at some of the worst loading dock hazards that pose significant threats to your workers – and how to prevent them.
Worker Crushed Between Loading Dock and Trailer
The Problem: Poor communication
There’s only one thing to blame for this accident, and that’s poor or inadequate communication procedures. The incident usually occurs as the tractor-trailer driver is backing the vehicle into the dock and is unaware that a worker is present.
Policies should be in place to prohibit workers from jumping on or off the docks.
Clearly define communication procedures to indicate to truck drivers when it’s safe to back a trailer into the dock.
Procedures should also indicate to workers that a trailer is approaching the loading dock, and barriers may be used to keep them a safe distance away.
Consider adding mirrors to the exterior of the dock, which can help drivers see the dock area (and any persons in it) while backing in.
Pedestrian Fall from Loading Dock
The Problem: Open loading dock
For businesses in compliance with OSHA rules, an open loading dock should never be a problem. OSHA specifies that every opening with a four-foot drop or more must be guarded by a rail, roller, fence, half door, or other equivalent barrier. Yet these types of falls still happen, and they can be deadly.
Always ensure that any loading dock that is not in use is guarded with a barrier that can withstand the force of a forklift moving at 4 mph.
Safety gates are excellent tools for preventing both lift trucks and pedestrians from accidentally falling off the edge of the dock.
Consider a policy that requires dock doors to be kept closed and locked when not in use.
Forklift Fall from Loading Dock
The Problem: Trailer creep
With all the back-and-forth of loading and unloading, the weight inside a trailer can shift and the gap between the trailer and loading dock can slowly and gradually widen. A widening vertical gap can lead to an uneven transition from dock to trailer bed, while a horizontal change can lead to full separation from the dock.
This is known as trailer creep, and it’s the main cause of forklift falls from the loading dock. While it may sound like an unlikely event, this type of incident accounts for a whopping 7 percent of all forklift accidents and can prove fatal.
While wheel chocks aren’t a reliable solution on their own, used properly and in good weather conditions, they can help minimize trailer movement (find out why Wheel Chocking Is Not a Waste of Time).
Automated restraints can be used alongside the chocks. They are mounted beneath the dock opening on the outside wall and have a hook that automatically extends to wrap around the trailer’s rear-impact guard.
Finally, dock levelers provide a bridge between the dock and trailer, and these can be used to ensure a smooth transition.
As technology continues to progress, keep an eye out for systems that monitor the dock and alert drivers to unsafe conditions, including trailer creep and early departure.
Landing Gear Collapse
The Problem: Weak or damaged landing gear
This type of accident occurs when the landing gear gives way, causing the trailer to either pitch forward or fall to one side. It’s often known as “trailer tip.”
A poorly supported trailer can easily collapse with a forklift and driver inside, creating an extremely hazardous situation.
Landing gear that is rarely used, rusted, or damaged in some other way is more prone to collapsing under the weight of product loads and lift trucks.
Always inspect the landing gear before loading and unloading procedures begin. If there are any concerns as to its safety, do not proceed.
Opt for gear that is manufactured to hold a substantial static load capacity (and verify that it meets your needs) and use a rotating hook vehicle restraint to prevent the trailer from toppling into the one docked next to it.
Fixed jacks may be necessary to support a trailer that isn’t attached to a tractor.
Pedestrian Collision with Forklift
The Problem: Shared pathways and low visibility
The combination of lift trucks and pedestrians is an inherently dangerous one, and pedestrian collisions with forklifts are a major problem. An estimated 36 percent of forklift-caused deaths each year are pedestrians.
Erecting a physical barriers between lift trucks and pedestrians is the best and most practical way to prevent these incidents. While painted lines on the floor indicate where pathways are, rails and gates offer physical separation.
Help increase driver visibility by ensuring all workers wear brightly colored safety gear and equipping the loading dock with good lighting.
Attach mirrors, horns, sensors, and lights to the forklift so the driver can alert others to the forklift's location.
Finally, offer driver training specific to areas with heavy pedestrian traffic.
There’s no question about it: these are truly catastrophic accidents. But they aren’t as rare as they should be, and there’s simply no excuse for that. By taking proactive steps to reduce the risk in and around your loading dock, you can prevent every one of them.