loading-dock-safetyLoading dock safety

The loading dock is one of the busiest and most dangerous areas in any warehouse. While the frequency of accidents in dock areas is usually lower than in other areas of the facility, the severity of injures related to loading dock accidents can be very high. Injuries sustained when lift trucks fall from docks or docks or when pedestrians are struck by a falling load can be very serious and even fatal. Part of a facility’s service or utility infrastructure, loading docks typically provide direct access to staging areas, storage rooms and freight elevators. When looking at the different operations taking place in a warehouse, distribution center or other loading/unloading operations, loading dock environments can be one of the more hazardous areas. Because no two facilities are exactly the same, no across the board solution for loading dock safety exists. Training is the primary means of keeping your employees safe in a loading dock environment. There are many mechanical devices that, if used and installed properly, can help reduce potential hazards in these areas. Loading docks have an increased potential for serious injury. Data from he Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that an average of three workers are killed and many more are injured in loading dock accidents each year.

Loading Dock Hazards

The high level of activity at a loading dock area along with the presence of physical hazards can lead to serious worker injury, and sometimes result in a fatality. It is important to be proactive in identifying potential hazards in the loading dock area, such as:

  • Forklifts overturning
  • Congestion and traffic
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Uneven surfaces
  • Lack of safe working procedures
  • Equipment in poor working order
  • Employees being hit by forklifts and other powered trucks
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Trailer separation
  • Unsecured loads
  • Debris on floor
  • Chemical splash
  • Material handling injuries (lifting)
  • Unguarded machinery
  • Unguarded dock edges
Wheel Chocks and Rear Impact Guard Locking Devices

One common loading dock accident occurs when drivers mistakenly pull away while a powered industrial truck is still inside the trailer. Another frequent problem is “trailer creep,” which happens when trailers gradually move away from the dock because of the ongoing impact and momentum of forklifts traveling in and around them. Standard practice has been to use wheel chocks to prevent this from happening but rear impact guard (RIG) locking devices have since proved to be the better solution. Chocks have been found to provide insufficient pullout resistance. They may slip on the ground and placing the chocks presents a hazard in itself to the employee. Chocking also lacks an embedded communication system to let the truck driver, powered industrial truck operator and dock personnel know they are in place. RIG-based locking devices feature a full rotating hook that automatically locks to the trailer’s RIG. This design prevents many types of trailer separation. Most RIG-based restraints also incorporate communications systems that indicate when they are engaged and when it is safe to load and unload the trailer.

Dock communication light

Dock communication systems follow a logical sequence that provides a clear, visual message to forklift operators and truck drivers. Once the restraint is safely engaged, the light on a control panel inside the dock automatically changes from red to green to indicate that trailer servicing can begin. The light outside turns red, signaling to the truck driver not to pull away.

Dock Boards

These steel or aluminum ramps are used to bridge the gap between the truck trailer and the loading dock so that pallet jacks or forklifts may move product in and out of the trailer. Employees should be trained on the proper and safe use of dock boards. Poorly placed dock boards may cause the forklift and or loads to overturn. Dock boards are generally portable but typically require the use of a forklift to move them. They are used in more industrial and heavier load environments.

Dock Plates

Dock plates are a smaller and more portable equivalent of the dock board. They may be constructed of aluminum, steel or polyethylene and do not have the weight capacity of the dock board. When using hand trucks or pallet trucks, a dock plate may be in order.

Dock Levelers

Dock levers are bridge the gap between loading docks and trailers; however, the dock leveler also helps correct the height difference between loading docks and trailers. Dock levelers are permanent devices that are operated either by hand (mechanical) , hydraulics or Air powered.


Guarding devices are essential to loading dock safety. Examples of guarding devices are guard rails, bollards, etc. A safe loading dock will find guardrails being used to separate pedestrian traffic from the production traffic of the loading dock. They can also be used in open docks with no trailer to prevent personnel from falling off the dock edge. In addition, guard rails can be used to protect stationary equipment or machinery and structures from accidental impacts from forklifts. Bollards serve much the same purpose but are used to protect building corners or where space around an area is limited. When placed correctly the bollard will keep a forklift from damaging a structure more severely

Preventive Maintenance
  • Establish a regular preventive maintenance program for loading dock equipment including dock levelers, restraints, doors, dock bumpers, lights, and communication systems.
  • Regularly check dock seals and dock shelters to ensure they are not leaking, to minimize worker exposure to vehicle exhaust and temperature extremes, as well as minimize deterioration of the building envelope due to weather.
How to Make Loading Docks Safer for Everyone?

OSHA provides some very helpful safety standards that aim to protect employees from hazards on loading docks. The OSHA 29 CFR 1910.176 Material Handling provides up to date safety standards regarding loading dock safety. However, the use of a safety checklist may also help to ensure a safer loading dock. Some items on the safety checklist may include: confirming that wheel chocks are used, making sure areas are clean of debris, allowing only OSHA trained employees to operate forklifts, etc.

When it comes to safety on the loading dock, nothing should be overlooked. There are numerous hazards present and it is important to make sure that employees are aware of hazards and trained in how to avoid them. With hazard awareness and proper training, loading docks can be safer working environments for all employees.

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