An estimated 25% of factory and warehouse accidents occur in the loading bay. High levels of human and mechanical traffic combined with a low appreciation of the risks involved, means that loading bays are potentially very hazardous places in which to work.
Loading bays are the areas within a warehouse where ingoing and outgoing goods are loaded and unloaded from a road vehicle. Normally this will mean articulated lorries and trailers that are serviced by forklift trucks. The loading/unloading will take place either from the side of a curtainsided trailer or the back of a solid sided trailer.
According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), reversing vehicles are the main problem for loading bay accidents and the main cause of nearly a quarter of work place fatalities. There is also the damage that can be caused to vehicles, equipment and premises, which can be costly.
Loading bays typically fall into one of two categories: one with a raised dock area which a lorry will reverse up to, or one which is flat and at the same level as the warehouse floor. The hazards that exist are different, dependent upon the type of loading bay and the equipment used.
With a raised loading dock, the road vehicle will reverse up to the dock, and the floor of the trailer will be at the same height. A dock leveller moves up and down to bridge the gap between the two, to enable forklift trucks to make a smooth, safe transition into and out of the trailer. A flat floor loading bay will have forklift trucks lifting the goods from the floor into the trailer.
Safety in the loading bay is not a stationary target, and over the years there have been many major technological advances, making the loading bay a safe and more efficient area in which to operate. Examples include the wide spread replacement of unreliable mechanical dock levellers with electrically-controlled hydraulic devices; the interlocking of all the equipment on the loading dock to reduce operator errors; the introduction of wheel locks to prevent lorry trailers moving away from the loading dock before they should.
Unplanned trailer departure from the loading dock is one of the most common hazards. This can occur either because the trailer ‘creeps’ away from the dock as it is being loaded or unloaded, or because the driver drives off, thinking it is OK to do so. Another major risk to operators is becoming trapped by the lorry trailer – lorries have even been known to crush warehouse operatives when reversing into loading bays.
To prevent such occurrences, it is essential that a clear system of communication between lorry drivers and warehouse personnel exists. A traffic light system is an easy solution but it is by no means ‘foolproof’. A wheel restraint, which locks the trailer in place is far more effective and solves the problems of trailer creep and unplanned vehicle departure.
It is also necessary that forklift trucks and lorries are regularly maintained and checked prior to operation, to avoid trailer brake failure and related accidents.
Vacant loading docks create a dangerous drop-off for dock personnel and material handling equipment. About 7% of the thousands of forklift accidents that occur every year are due to forklift trucks running off loading docks.
A safety barrier is a simple to use safety solution. The barrier is manually positioned across loading dock openings and physically stops forklift trucks and pedestrians from falling off the docks.
The HSE suggests that loading bays be located in safe and suitable places – such as next to marshalling areas near sheeting areas, for example – in order for vehicles to manoeuvre easily. The government body also advises that:
Loading bays should have at least one pedestrian exit, or two for wide bays.
A refuge could be provided to prevent staff being struck by vehicles.
There should be adequate fencing where there is a danger of people falling.
Remove the need for reversing altogether by setting up one-way systems such as drive-through loading and unloading positions.
Where reversing is unavoidable, create organised routes to minimise the need for reversing.
The substantial risks of the loading bay continuously need addressing, to reduce the number of loading bay accidents. Dock personnel must be properly trained in the safe use of all loading equipment, and safe working systems must be put in place.
The choice of the right loading bay equipment is essential.
Caljan Rite-Hite, which supplies loading dock equipment and safety accessories, says users of its products are able to pick the right solution for their needs. Its products work together so that all the separate pieces can be interlocked to ensure they are used correctly and in the right sequence. This means, for example, that a warehouse operator could not open the loading bay door until a lorry was safely locked in place by the wheel restraint.
There is now cost-effective technology available to warehouse operators that will reduce the high level of accidents in the loading bay, and the costly repairs and legal problems that can result from these.
Combine this with operator training and the loading bay will become a less hazardous place. n