Two common problems at loading docks are damage to the loading dock door and dock drop-offs that involve an employee and/or a forklift. Both problems can easily be prevented if the issues causing them are completely understood.
Loading dock door damage
Loading dock door damage typically results from either a staging or hauling operation or a situation where the loading dock door is hit. When the loading dock door is hit, the mechanism that opens and closes the dock door may be damaged, resulting in the inability to completely open the loading dock door. A door that is not fully open offers a potentially unsafe condition because the door can drop on employees, cargo, or loading equipment.
Loading dock door drop-offs
Statistics indicate1 that every day there are over 260 forklift truck accidents at loading docks. In fact, every three days there is one fatal loading dock accident where a forklift drops-off of a loading dock. For each loading dock accident, there are approximately 600 near misses.
Many of these accidents can be serious. One loading dock door drop-off can impact a company’s reputation and its responsibility to provide a safe work environment. The last thing a company wants to read about is a loading dock door drop-off that occurred in one of their facilities, especially if the accident could have been prevented. Nor does any company want to be a statistic in U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Weekly Fatality/Catastrophe Report2. In addition, an investigation may follow to determine if the company was in compliance with OSHA’s applicable standards.
OSHA may cite the General Duty Clause, which requires, “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
Another standard that could be cited is 1910.22(c), “Covers and/or guardrails shall be provided to protect personnel from the hazards of open pits, tanks, vats, ditches, etc.”
Impact of loading dock door drop-offs and dock door damages on corporate profitability
Even a single loading dock door drop-off accident can greatly impact a company’s profitability. Not only is the company responsible for the costs of the person’s injuries, but significant costs, potentially thousands of dollars, may result from a lawsuit. In addition, if a fatality is involved, or there are three or more employees as a result of a work-related incident the company must report it to OSHA within eight hours (29 CFR 1904.39). This will most likely result in an OSHA inspection and investigation.
Profitability is also affected when the loading dock door is hit. Once impacted, the door cannot be opened or closed without further damage to the door mechanism, and sometimes the dock door cannot be opened or closed at all until it is repaired, leaving the company with one fewer loading dock in operation. Just to replace a damaged door panel costs between US$200-US$600. This does not include the downtime created by lost use of the door, the 2-3 hours of labor costs to install the new panel, or the cost of the repair person’s travel time.
There may be additional costs related to product replacement if the loading dock door is also used to:
• maintain proper refrigeration temperatures and keep the cold-chain from breaking during palletization, staging, loading and unloading of containers; or
• protect products from exposure to environmental contaminants such as microbes, dust, moisture and other physical contamination, there may be additional costs related to product replacement.
The company may suffer additional losses resulting from the loading dock door being fully or partially opened for an extended period of time until the repair can be made.
Today many safety-minded companies are using safety barriers in place of a single chain across the loading dock door. The use of a chain is an outdated practice that offers minimal, if any, protection against loading dock drop-off when material handling equipment is involved.
The newest technology in dock door protection is the use of a safety barrier that provides a constant visual warning and a safety reminder. In addition, an audible alarm is triggered when the safety barrier is hit. This provides an additional warning to the dock employee, allowing for adequate reaction time to reduce the risk of accidentally hitting the dock door. If the barrier is struck, it safely detaches upon impact and can easily be reattached in just a few seconds. No special skill is required to reattach the barrier. This product can also help prevent forklift drop-off at raised docks and pedestrians from walking off the edge of the dock.
Below are supporting statements from several large distribution companies as to why they now choose to use loading dock door safety barriers in front of their loading dock doors to prevent loading dock door damage and dock drop-off:
• Mario D’Amours, Vice-President Distribution, Colabor L.P., an integrated food marketing and distribution network which warehouses food products until they are supplied to wholesalers: “On a regular basis, we move a lot of skids full of products, as well as empty skids, through our dock doors. We were looking for a solution where there would be a safe distance between the door and the truck and where we could also alert the yard to any potential safety issue. Safety barriers are the perfect solution to support our company’s commitment to safety.”
• Serge Guy, Director, Molson-Coors Brewing Company: “Our situation is a little different. We have an interior loading dock and hence we don’t have loading dock doors. Nevertheless, to secure our loading operation we decided to equip all of our interior loading docks with safety barriers. This has made our loading process significantly safer.”
• Denis Trois, Logistics Director at Colabor L.P., a Canadian integrated food marketing and distribution network operating in Quebec, Atlantic Canada and Ontario. Colabor warehouses food products that it supplies exclusively to wholesalers: “To solve our costly loading dock door problem, we installed safety barrier at each loading dock door. Since that time we have not had a single loading dock door accident.”
Loading dock door safety barriers, from companies like GMR Safety, are now considered the best solution to help protect loading dock doors from being hit and damaged and the best option to help reduce the need to replace overhead door bottom panels. They also provide a safer environment at the loading dock and aid in preventing loading dock drop-off accidents. Dock door safety barriers help reinforce a company’s commitment to accident and injury prevention.
Concurrently, loading dock door safety barriers also:
• Restrict access to the MTZ (material transfer zone).
• Reduce employee and facility downtime.
• Reduce maintenance and repair budgets and thus avoid loss of corporate profits.