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Loading Dock Accidents

Loading Dock Injury

loading dock with stairsLoading docks at large warehouses or manufacturing plants present a number of safety hazards. Companies have a duty to train employees and implement operating procedures that ensure the safety of everyone working on a loading dock. These procedures should extend to the truck drivers who are responsible for backing safely to the dock, securing the trailer for unloading and loading and pulling out of the bay.

Employee Safety and Training

Proper design, layout and maintenance of the loading dock is critical for a safe work environment. Loading docks with 10 or more bays need to have stairs installed at every other bay so workers can easily and safely step down and assist trucks backing in and out of the bays. Poorly designed loading docks leave workers the unsafe option of jumping off or climbing up to the dock which can cause all sorts of work related injuries.

Forklift safety is also very important on loading docks. Owners need to remove any risk of a forklift driver backing up and falling off the edge of the dock. Proper design of the dock and bay area along with safety measures will address this issue. First, the loading dock should be fully enclosed except for the bay areas which have overhead doors. If the loading dock has no enclosure guard rails should be installed, without them you are inviting serious injuries to a driver who backs off the edge of a loading dock. Secondly, train all employees to keep overhead doors closed if there is no trailer parked in a bay. This will ensure that no one unintentionally backs off the loading dock through an open door.

When trucks with trailers arrive at the loading dock they are probably filled to capacity. After the truck driver has made the journey from hundreds of miles away you can be certain that the contents of the trailer have shifted. The worker who opens the trailer door can never be certain what they will find. Is the trailer fully loaded? Overloaded? Were the products loaded and secured properly?

Before opening the trailer door employees should be trained to:

  • Ensure the area behind and to either side of them is clear of any boxes, pallets or forklifts;
  • Wear personal protective equipment especially hardhat and steel-toed shoes;
  • Upon opening the door step to the right or left side

If the trailer is fully loaded and product and materials have shifted, or if the trailer was loaded poorly you could suffer injuries to your legs and back if the contents fall out of the trailer when you open the door. Employees must be trained to expect the unexpected in these situations.

Keep Loading Dock Bays Clean and Clear

Here are some common injuries and the circumstances that to lead to injury.

Back and leg injury. When trailers are being loaded and unloaded the goal is to do it efficiently and safely. To prevent trip and fall injuries make sure the area is clear of any obstruction like pallets, empty boxes or garbage. Forklifts, lift transporters, pallet trucks and other equipment are typically used to unload and load trailers. The risk of injury increases when the loading dock is cluttered and warehouse personnel have to navigate around obstacles. Pallet trucks and lift transporters are on wheels and an employee could suffer back or leg injuries falling while unloading a trailer.

Head and arm injury. Loading docks can be fully exposed to the outdoor elements or partially or fully enclosed. If the loading dock is fully exposed situations like rainy days or trailers that have been driving in heavy rain can lead to wet conditions. The steel dock plates or ramps that are used to bridge the  trailer to the loading dock floor can be dangerous. They facilitate the smooth movement of equipment used to unload the trailer and people walking in and out carrying boxes by hand. If it is raining the trailer, loading dock and dock plates will be wet creating conditions for slip and fall injuries. These areas need to be kept dry to reduce the chances of injury.

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Truck Drivers, Trailers and Backing In Safely

Backing the trailer into the loading dock bay must be done slowly and safely to avoid any injury. This is one of the most dangerous parts of the job in a warehouse. As recently as December 2017 a worker was killed in Atlanta when he was on the ground behind a trailer when the truck was backing in. No one should be on the ground when this is happening. If there are items in front of the dock must be moved to clear the area the truck driver must be notified and told to stop the truck. If someone must be on the ground to help direct the driver they should be well to the right or the left of the trailer so the driver can see them in his mirrors.

There should be no gap between the trailer and the loading dock. If there is it will create a hazard for those unloading. A worker could inadvertently step into the gap twisting and spraining an ankle or breaking a leg if the trailer should move back. A forklift driver who doesn’t cleanly enter the trailer on the ramp could cause the forklift to tip to one side, falling partially into the gap causing an accident and suffering head or arm injuries from the impact.

Once backed in the truck and trailer must be secured:

  • The wheels of the trailer should be secured by using “chocks” that are designed to prevent the trailer from moving;
  • Turn the engine off in the truck, set the transmission to reverse and engage the parking brake;
  • Even with these precautions employees should be aware of “trailer creep” as the trailer can move during unloading.

Pulling Out of the Bay

Driving off and exiting the loading dock may sound simple but it can also result in injury and there are common procedures that must be followed.

Loading dock employees must ensure:

  • All equipment is removed from the trailer;
  • The Steel dock plate or ramp is removed;
  • Trailer door is closed and secured.

Truck drivers must;

  • Pull the trailer out about a foot or two and place the truck in park;
  • Walk to the back of the trailer and make it isn’t open, if it is closed open it and double check that nothing was left inside;
  • Drive out slowly.

What Warehouse Owners Can Do

Warehouses and loading docks, like any facility will age over time. If your company has recently purchased an older facility or if you are the owner of facility that is ageing there are some things you can do to ensure the loading dock is as safe as possible:

  • Install overhead canopies; if the loading dock is exposed to the outside this is a good idea. Canopies should extend out over the bay doors 5 or 6 feet. They can span the entire length of the bay area or installed over each individually. They provide additional shelter and can assist in keeping the loading dock dry which can prevent slip and fall injuries.
  • Dock door seals; an alternative to canopies, seals also provide shelter from the weather outside, are padded to protect the walls of the building and can act as a guide for truck driver backing into the loading bays.
  • Overhead fans; humidity in the loading dock area can cause moisture build up on the walls and floor. High velocity low speed fans can keep the area dry and comfortable. Unloading and loading a truck is difficult enough and in Houston where the humidity is very high your employees will be safer and more productive with proper ventilation.

If you were injured on a loading dock in Houston call our work injury lawyers to talk about your accident. Consultations are free at Michael P. Fleming & Associates, P.C. 713-221-6800.