Dockworker Safety: Beyond Forklift Training Part 1

security-1004644_640The month of June celebrated a slew of safety awareness events that relate to manual material handling. Forklifts are one of the most dangerous factors to these jobs, but lift trucks and operator ignorance aren’t the only ingredients in this recipe for disaster. Dockworkers face serious risks of accident, injury, and even death – semi trucks kill 20 people at loading docks each year. So what else can you focus on to improve safety for your dockworkers?

Update Your Drop-Off Barriers

OSHA has long had a requirement that for any drop-off that’s four feet or more, you have to provide a rail, roller, picket fence, half door, or equivalent barrier. This was recently updated to specify that it must be a guard rail or equivalent barrier. That means that loading dock chains aren’t compliant anymore, and they need to be updated. 7% of forklift accidents are the result of a fall from a loading dock opening; it’s important to follow these guides.

Minimize Risk of Trailer Separation

Rotating-hook trailer restraints worked on most trailers in the 1980s and 90s; most trucks were standard 45 to 53-foot over-the-road trailers. Today these are still in use, but “non-traditional” rigs, like intermodal chassis and those with hydraulic tailgates, are becoming more popular. This makes it difficult for facilities to find a trailer restraint solution that works for all trucks. Consequently, several kinds of trailer separation can occur:

  • Upending or Pop-up– a trailer nose goes up or down because of a forklift’s weight in the front or rear
  • Dock Walk – repeated jarring causes the trailer to creep away from the dock, creating a hazard
  • Early Departure – the driver unexpectedly drives away from the dock while someone is entering, exiting, or inside the trailer
  • Landing Gear Collapse – trailers can pitch forward or fall to the side if the landing gear gives way

While there’s no way to guarantee trailer separation won’t happen, you can certainly take steps to minimize your risk. The first is to have the most updated and universal trailer restraint available. Today, that’s a shadow-hook restraint. Secondly, pair it with a light communication system that indicates the restraint’s engagement status. Most systems have indicators in the corners of the dock opening and on the leveler. This is the second most secure way to avoid trailer separation accidents because it provides an at-a-glance status.

These two improvements focus on accidents that can be catastrophic to forklift operators in particular. The solutions are immediately available and easy to implement. In part two, we’ll focus on safety for pedestrians and a less obvious, but very serious danger to lift truck drivers.