I operate a lift truck on a busy loading dock. I was getting ready to drop a pallet into a trailer when I noticed some unusual movement. I stopped the forklift to check it out – and I’m thankful I did. The trailer was starting to creep forward. There’s no telling what the weight of the forklift might have done to it.
They’re small tools, but wheel chocks play an important role in loading dock safety. Essentially, they’re wedge-shaped blocks that are manually placed behind the wheels of a trailer to stop it from moving out of the parked position.
OSHA requires that trailer operators set the brakes and use wheel chocks on the rear wheels to prevent accidents resulting from trailer movement, especially during loading and unloading procedures.
Choosing the Right Chocks
You’ll find wheel chocks in a wide range of sizes, which correspond to the sizes of various tires. Most manufacturers specify the tire height that their chocks are designed to accommodate, but there are other important considerations:
- Type of tire
- Chock material
- Road material
- Load weight
Limitations of Wheel Chocks
While OSHA standards mandate the use of chocks, they have their limitations and must be used as part of a larger safety strategy to keep docked trailers in place.
Trailers are extremely heavy, especially when loaded, and wheel chocks simply don’t offer enough restraining force to fully prevent early departure from the loading dock. Many businesses also lack an effective communication system to signal the status of the chocks to truck drivers and forklift operators.
Other things to note:
- Chocks can easily slip on ice and snow, resulting in trailer creep
- They are often damaged, misplaced, and even stolen
- Employees responsible for setting them in place must take care to prevent back injuries (learn about these and other Top Ergonomic Issues in the Workplace)
An Employee Checklist for Using Wheel Chocks
If you’re working in and around the loading dock, you should understand what wheel chocks are and why they’re used. You must also understand (and apply) the established communication procedures for confirming the status of the chocks. Failure to adhere to policies like this could result in the loading or unloading process beginning before the chocks are set and it’s safe to do so.
If you’re the one in charge of putting the wheel chocks into place, you have a great responsibility. Follow these steps to ensure you’re chocking the trailer properly:
- Make sure the parking brake is set
- Use chocks in pairs
- Chock in the direction of the grade (if the surface is level, chock both sides of one wheel)
- Center the chocks against the wheel
- Use established communication procedures to confirm that chocking is complete and that loading or unloading can begin
What Employers Can Do to Help
For wheel chocks to be effective, employers must provide proper training to loading dock workers. Training could include:
- What wheel chocks are and why they’re used
- How to properly set and remove a wheel chock
- Inspecting chocks for signs of damage or excess wear
In addition to training, there must be clear communication channels about who is responsible for placing and removing the chocks, how their status will be communicated to drivers, and strict enforcement to confirm that the devices are being used consistently.
Despite their limitations, wheel chocks should always be used as an added safety measure against the early departure of trailers from the loading dock. With a bit of training, good communication, and safe work practices, this small item might just make the difference between a safe workday and a tragic accident.