Keeping things tidy makes your workplace look efficient and organized. But it also helps keep workers safe.
Loading docks can be dangerous areas to work in. In fact, about 25 percent of all reported warehouse injuries occur on loading docks. By practicing good housekeeping around the docks, you can do your part to improve that stat – and avoid noncompliance fines from OSHA.
Housekeeping Hazards and How to Address Them
Loading dock spaces vary across industries and businesses, but many of the most common housekeeping issues appear time and again. Let’s take a look at some prevalent housekeeping hazards and the proactive steps you can take before an incident occurs.
Loading dock clutter takes many forms. It’s one of the busiest places in a warehouse, so it’s not uncommon to find:
- Shrink wrap
- Production materials
- Broken wooden pallets
- Banding materials
It’s certainly not pretty to look at, but clutter on the loading dock is also a hazard for pedestrians who must step over them and lift truck drivers who are forced to navigate around them.
Slips, trips, and falls (from clutter or otherwise) make up the majority of general industry accidents in the United States. They account for one quarter of all reported claims and 15 percent of all accidental deaths each year. In addition, they result in lost productivity, increased insurance premiums, and spending to hire and train a replacement worker. But most of these incidents are preventable with appropriate safety measures.
How to handle it:
- Build time for housekeeping into each shift – everyone pitching in for just 10 minutes can keep the area free of unnecessary items
- Empty trash cans and recycling bins before they reach capacity and begin overflowing
- Immediately remove all broken pallets, excess cardboard, and used production and shipping materials from the loading dock area – don’t wait until the end of the shift
Slippery or Damaged Walking-Working Surfaces
This hazard is another key contributor to the slip, trip, and fall injuries reported to OSHA each year. Wet, cracked, or uneven flooring presents a serious risk to workers in the loading dock area.
Placing warning signs is a good step, but it's not enough. Workers carrying loads may not have the necessary line of sight to see them.
How to handle it:
- Clean up all spills immediately; oil and grease should be covered with absorbents before being mopped up
- Keep the loading dock area free of rain, snow, and ice
- Inspect for cracked, broken, and uneven flooring surfaces on a regular basis
- Dust and sweep frequently to remove dusts, powders, granules, and small objects like stray nuts and bolts
- Mop floors at least once per shift to remove water, oils, grease, and soap from cleaning solutions
OSHA standards require loading docks to be adequately lit – and for good reason. Poor lighting on the loading dock or inside trailers exposes workers to unnecessary risks, including collisions and slip, trip, and fall incidents.
How to handle it:
- Invest in heavy duty lights that can withstand the harsh loading dock environment
- Do regular checks to ensure all light bulbs are working, replace those that are burnt out, and identify any areas that could benefit from additional lighting
- Opt for lights that remain cool to the touch and have multiple bend points to accommodate potential obstructions
Stacked Items and “Storage Corners”
Part of housekeeping is ensuring that items are stored neatly and in the correct place – and that place isn’t in a corner where few people visit.
Loading docks are generally the final pre-shipment destination for products in the warehouse, and this sometimes results in boxes being stacked precariously and extra items being strewn aside to a remote corner of the loading dock area. This creates one of two hazards: clutter or toppling boxes.
How to handle it:
- Use wall-mounted organization systems like shelves and hooks to secure tools and equipment
- Train workers on proper stacking techniques: stack light loads on top of heavy loads, make sure boxes don't stick out from pallets, keep box stacks more than 18 inches from sprinkler heads
- Designate specific areas where boxes can be stacked, away from emergency exits, exit signs, and safety equipment
Creating and Implementing a Housekeeping Plan
Identifying problem areas and potential solutions is one thing. Putting a plan into action is another matter.
It won’t happen overnight. But there are a few key things you can do to help develop a practical plan for your loading dock:
- Speak to supervisors and workers in the loading dock area to learn their concerns, brainstorm potential solutions, and ensure the goals and procedures you devise can be realistically executed (to learn about the benefits of these interactions, see Face-to-Face Safety: The Right Way to Build a Safety Culture)
- Create a draft plan and open up the floor for employee feedback and discussion
- Review the plan after three months to determine what’s working and what isn’t
A housekeeping plan only works if everyone is on board, and employees should be trained to ensure they understand the procedures and what is expected of them. Though it takes a bit of time and effort, effective housekeeping ensures that your busy loading dock area is cleaner and safer.