It happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to react. I was moving a box from the dock into a trailer, and I’m usually pretty aware of my surroundings… but I just didn’t see the extension cord on the floor. Before I knew it, the box went flying and I was on my knees. I ended up with only a couple of bruises and the box didn't hit anyone, but it could have been a lot worse.
Loading Dock Falls
The mix of pedestrian and lift truck traffic, boxes of product, clutter, and vacant docks, can create a perfect storm for falls around loading docks.
Falls account for about 25 percent of all reported injuries at the loading dock. The majority of them are slips, trips, and falls, and most of them are entirely preventable.
Common Fall Hazards and How to Prevent Them
There are two key fall hazards on the loading dock: clutter and vacant docks. Finding practical ways to address each of these hazards is crucial to creating a safe working environment for your loading dock staff.
Clutter is one of the most significant fall risks in the loading area. Items commonly found on loading docks include:
- Shrink wrap
- Production materials
- Broken wooden pallets
- Banding materials
- Extension cords
Thankfully, there's a simple solution to this problem: good housekeeping practices.
Allocate 10 to 15 minutes at the end of each shift for housekeeping tasks. This will go a long way to ensuring that the loading dock remains free of clutter that could cause someone to trip and fall.
Broken pallets and excess cardboard should be removed immediately – not at the end of the shift. Taking proactive measures like these will help keep the floor remains clear of stray items and minimize the risk of worker injury.
Open Loading Docks
A loading dock that is left open with no trailer attached is an accident waiting to happen.
Most loading docks are about 48 inches high, requiring fall protection as per OSHA standards. But there are some that only reach 46 inches – do these require protection as well?
By the letter of the law, they don’t. But for practical purposes, all open loading docks should have fall protection, no matter the height. A four-foot drop can be incredibly dangerous for workers – even if you give or take two inches. A safety barrier can prevent an accident that is potentially fatal to workers on foot or behind the wheel of a lift truck.
Most safety experts recommend painting the edge of the dock bright yellow, as well. That won't prevent a fall, of course. But it will make the risky areas more visible.
The best way to manage risk is to remove the hazard altogether. Consider amending your work practices to mandate that dock doors remain closed whenever they're not in use (learn more about The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls).
How Employers Can Support Fall Prevention
There are a few key ways that employers can prevent falls in the workplace and keep employees safe.
Develop a Safety Manual
Outline the policies and procedures that must be followed to prevent falls (and other injuries) on the loading dock. The document should be easily accessible for employees to review.
Offer Comprehensive Training
This training may cover things like hazards on the loading dock, housekeeping procedures, and best practices in and around the dock. Every employee who works on the loading dock should have a clear understanding of how they contribute to maintaining a safe work environment.
Conduct Regular Audits
It’s essential to review the situation regularly to get a sense of how things are working and where they aren’t.
Are your housekeeping procedures practical for the loading dock teams to implement? Do your safety practices address the issues these workers face on a daily basis? Has anything changed to cause a new hazard? If so, update your safety plan accordingly.
All employees should take an active role in maintaining a safe work environment in the loading dock. This means following all procedures and pitching in to clean up potential fall hazards (you wouldn’t leave a mess on the floor at home, and the same rules apply at work).
Workers should actively participate in training and be sure to bring any fall hazards they notice to their immediate supervisor's attention.
Falls may be one of the most commonly reported occupational injuries, but they can easily be prevented on the loading dock. By developing and implementing effective housekeeping procedures and ensuring good work practices (like keeping the dock door closed), employers can rest easy knowing that their employees are working safely.