About one-quarter of all warehouse injuries happen in loading docks. For managers who want to reduce injuries in their facilities, warehouse loading dock safety should be a priority. It’s not hard to understand why accidents occur so frequently in loading docks; these spaces are extremely busy, with people and machinery working quickly and in close quarters. But improving worker safety on the loading dock isn’t difficult when you understand how accidents most often occur, and it can have a substantial positive impact on your warehouse productivity and morale.
While not every injury in the warehouse is life-altering, every incident will have an impact on the warehouse’s Total Cost of Business (TCOB). Employees who are out of work or on restrictions due to injury slow down productivity and increase insurance costs. Frequent injuries can also have a marked impact on morale, which lowers productivity even more. Implementing some basic measures to improve warehouse loading dock safety protects employees as well as the warehouse’s bottom line.
Top Loading Dock Hazards for Warehouse Workers
Understanding the most common injuries employees suffer is one of the first steps to improving safety in warehouse operations. Obviously, cuts and abrasions are the most common injuries, but these don’t typically put worker health–or lives–at risk. The most common serious injuries are:
- Falls: Slips and falls are one of the most common types of injury resulting in days away from work. Loading docks present a particular hazard due to fall-through incidents, in which the employee falls through the space between the truck and the loading dock. These falls can lead to fractures or serious wounds. They can also become crushing injuries if machinery falls on top of a worker or a vehicle backs into them.
- Crush injuries: Injuries in which an employee is pinned between heavy objects like trailers, trucks, and forklifts are extremely dangerous and are not uncommon in the warehouse. These injuries impact multiple parts of a person’s body and can result in extensive broken bones and damage to internal organs. As a result, this kind of injury is a common cause of fatalities in the workplace.
- Toxin inhalation: An idling vehicle in a poorly ventilated area results in exposure to carbon monoxide. High levels of carbon monoxide can kill a person in less than ten minutes. Even very brief exposure can have long-term consequences, such as heart and brain damage, since carbon monoxide prevents vital organs from getting the oxygen needed to sustain them.
- Lifting: In 2017, nearly 100,000 lifting injuries resulted in days away from work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lifting and overexertion injuries are very common in warehouses and are especially prevalent on loading docks as employees are moving quickly and may not follow proper lifting protocols. Employees injured in lifting incidents may take months to recover and could suffer permanent muscle and tendon damage.
Warehouses are one of the most hazardous places to work, so it’s important for managers in these spaces to be extra vigilant. While it may never be possible to eliminate worker injuries entirely, there are ways to significantly reduce the risks.
Four Simple Warehouse Loading Dock Safety Tips
Most employee injuries occur as a result of human error. Warehouse managers often focus on employee training to limit the risk of accidents, which is an excellent first step. However, there are additional measures managers can take and tools they can use to increase warehouse safety even further.
- Properly use dock plates and levelers: Dock plates bridge the gap between docks and trucks. Levelers can reduce the risk of human error by ensuring a smooth, mechanical lift from dock to truck. Both these tools greatly decrease the risk of fall-through injuries as the dangerous gap between truck and dock is completely eliminated.
- Establish well-marked safety zones: Taping zones on the floor can be a good way to ensure that employees stay out of hazardous areas while trucks are moving. Places where trucks have blind spots or where employees could become pinned should be marked to ensure employees minimize the time they spend in these areas. In addition, drivers should make sure these spots are completely empty before they start moving.
- Have an “engine off” policy for stopped vehicles: Vehicles can’t emit carbon monoxide if their engines aren’t running, so a policy should be implemented to ensure that the default status for vehicles is “engine off.” This reduces the risk of toxic fume inhalation. A good protocol is to cut the engine as soon as the vehicle is chock-blocked or the emergency brake is engaged.
- Use lightweight plastic pallets to reduce lifting injuries: Employees often suffer lifting injuries because they underestimate the weight of an object. This is especially true when workers are handling empty wood pallets, which can weigh more than 80 pounds. A good way to reduce lifting injuries and increase pallet safety is to switch to plastic pallets, which usually weigh less than 50 pounds. This ensures that a single employee can lift a pallet and stay OSHA compliant, as a two-person lift is required on anything over 50 pounds. In addition, plastic pallets have a consistent weight; while wood pallets may absorb water and be heavier than expected, plastic pallets have a predictable weight that won’t surprise employees when they go to pick them up. (Most plastic pallets have hand-holds built in.)
Switching to plastic pallets is an important warehouse loading dock safety tip because plastic pallets have many benefits in addition to minimizing lifting injuries. They are easy to lift with a forklift and less likely to fail than wooden platforms, which reduces risks from dangerous spills or collapsing pallets. Plastic platforms can even reduce instances of cuts and abrasions, as they have no splinters or protruding nails which might cut or puncture employees during handling. While proper training is crucial to ensure loading dock safety, managers can enhance those efforts by providing workers with safe, modern equipment like plastic pallets.
iGPS plastic pallets are the best way to limit workplace injuries related to pallet handling. Our lightweight pallets are easy to grip and lift, while also being strong enough to transport products safely. For more information on how renting our pallets can improve warehouse loading dock safety, contact us at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.