5 Guidelines for Loading Dock Safety

Stay Informed

When you think of a loading dock, does a flurry of activity and the classic “beep, beep, beep” backup sound come to mind? On a daily basis, loading docks are a hub of activity for shipping and receiving functions that keep the lifeblood of businesses flowing. Unfortunately, about 25 percent of reported warehouse injuries occur on loading docks.

With the use of forklifts, pallet jacks, and other manual means in these critical transition areas, it’s important to review the hazards associated with loading docks and safety practices to help prevent injuries and incidents.

Here are five key protection measures for keeping loading docks safe.

1. Using Barriers to Prevent Falls

Loading docks are often elevated four feet or higher from the ground, so ramps, dockboards, or other bridging devices can be placed to efficiently move materials and shipments on and off delivery vehicles. Also, dock doors are often left open to provide ventilation, sunlight, and ease of traffic.

Per OSHA standards, appropriate safety protocols should be in place to raise awareness of the fall hazard at an opening, even if a dock is elevated slightly under four feet. Scissor gates, chains, railings, or other barriers should be in place any time the overhead door is open and the fall hazard is exposed. With fall prevention means in place like a visual barrier, access to the fall hazard is restricted and workers are properly alerted to the hazard.

 2. Securing Trailers to Docks

When trailers are backed into a dock for loading and/or unloading, workers should always verify wheel chocks or automatic vehicle restraints like dock locks are in place. These mechanisms prevent separation of the trailer from the dock, or “trailer creep.” Automatic restraints hook into the rear impact guard and provide added security since the dock locks hold the trailer or truck against the building. If using a dock plate, always check prior to use to ensure they are secure and can safely support the load.

Because a trailer can move from the weight of lift equipment entering and exiting it, securing it is essential for safety’s sake. Knowledge of the secure front end of the trailer is important as well. Also, trailer jacks may be required when trailers are loaded alone to avoid upending.

3. Using All Available Lighting

Since trailers are enclosed structures, often with no interior lighting, loading or unloading might need to be performed in low light conditions. By ensuring operational lights on forklifts are functioning and by turning on any available dock lights, hidden hazards will be illuminated and accidents can be prevented. Checking lighting is a quick and simple safety procedure that adds another layer of safety on the docks.

4. Using Mobile Equipment Safely

Forklifts are an invaluable tool to efficiently move materials throughout a workplace, not to mention eliminating manual material handling risk that often results in employee injury. Safe use of a forklift requires well-maintained equipment; proper use of horns, lights and seat belts by certified operators; and exercising caution in congested areas. Also, knowledge of capacities of the lift and what you’re traveling over is important as well.

5. Communicating With Drivers 

Clear, visual communication between the dock workers or equipment operators and the truck driver is essential. Communicating when tasks are completed, when trailers are secured or released, and what shipments to pull are just a few key instances where communication is vital. It can make the difference between a safe load entry or exit, or an accidental fall off the dock.

Load up for Safety

With the constant activity of equipment, vehicles and people on and around loading docks, observing safe work practices is the key to lowering the risk of injuries and incidents. It’s good for workers, and it’s good for business too.   


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