Complacency in a hazardous work environment can cause injuries and death when workers let down their guard or do not follow the rules. Working around the loading dock is one of the most dangerous workplaces in America.
Warehouse employees, dockworkers, and truck drivers are at significant risk of suffering debilitating injuries or wrongful death from shifting loads, pallet cargo tip-overs, falling, being crushed, exposure to loud noises and hazardous materials, and improper lifting practices.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration) regulates all loading and unloading activity occurring at plants, stores, shipyards, warehouse and other locations. The federal agency warns workers to remain cautious when preparing the trailer and dock for loading and unloading and how to properly use forklifts and equipment to load or remove cargo in the docking area.
The federal agency recommends that workers take special precautions including:
- Remaining aware of tail swings
- Maintaining a safe distance from the loading dock edge
- Keeping all work surfaces clean and clear, and
- Use equipment, devices, reflected gear and paint that improves visibility to the truckers that are approaching or leaving the dock.
OSHA also recommends that employers to should provide dockworkers essential protective equipment including eye protection, gloves, helmets, steel toe boots, and fluorescent/bright safety vests.
Serious Loading Dock Incidents
Hard-working dockhands often face hazardous conditions exist that can lead to forklift injuries and loading dock deaths. Recent loading dock incidents in the news include:
- In January 2017, a 44-year-old worker in Las Vegas suffered fatal injuries after being struck by a tractor-trailer at an Albertson’s loading dock.
- In September 2017, a warehouse employee working on the loading dock suffered debilitating permanent injuries thought to be the result of a defective design of the dock and work area. The worker was unloading avocados out of the trailer when the truck unexpectedly rolled backward as the driver began pulling away from the dock. The trucker’s actions pinned the worker between the loading dock in the trailer that resulted in serious injuries.
- In November 2016, a 37-year-old Rockland Massachusetts employee died while guiding a trucker backing up to a loading dock after becoming trapped between the dock and trailer. The worker apparently lost his footing and fell from the platform ramp of the loading dock. OSHA investigated the incident.
- In September 2016, an employee working at a local Sacramento Goodwill Outlet died in a tragic accident while attempting to repair a trash compactor near the store’s loading dock. The local fire department responded to the call and found the employee with severe head injuries. Emergency responders transported the 24-year-old worker to the Sacramento UC Davis Medical Center. OSHA inspectors investigated the incident that occurred at the loading dock and stated that “cleaning the trash compactor is a task other employees say they do often.”
Loading Dock Injuries and Death Statistics
Statistics by the US Department of Labor released by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) reveals numerous serious accidents occurring at loading docks since the beginning of 2014. These include:
- January 30, 2017 – A trucker suffers injuries after being struck by flying debris.
- July 28, 2016 – A dockworker is killed after being crushed between the loading dock in a truck.
- July 13, 2016 – A dockworker is killed after being crushed.
- July 12, 2016 – An employee falls from the loading dock in is killed.
- March 25, 2016 – A worker suffers crushing injuries after a forklift dropped off the loading dock.
- December 29, 2015 – A worker suffers crushing injuries when a forklift drops off the dock.
- October 29, 2015 – An employee is killed after falling through an opening in the floor.
- May 14, 2015 – A worker gets caught between the loading dock and a tractor-trailer.
- March 23, 2015 – A worker is crushed by a forklift.
- December 31, 2014 – A worker dies after being crushed between the dock and a truck.
- October 30, 2014 – An employee dies after falling from the loading dock.
- October 22, 2014 – A worker dies after falling from the platform.
- February 10, 2014 – A partial truck struck and injured an industrial truck operator.
- January 22, 2014 – A worker’s back is injured while unloading a truck.
- January 21, 2014 – A worker crushes a finger between a dolly and a pipe rack.
- January 6, 2014 – A company owner dies after being struck by a vehicle backing up.
Developing and Maintaining Safety Strategies for Workers Who Have Access to Loading Docks
Companies that develop a systematic safety strategy that is continually enforced can reduce on-site accidents and hazardous conditions. An effective safety strategy can create a healthier environment when working on and around the loading dock. This strategy requires built-in safety checks that adhere to routine operations that could include a detailed checklist of how to use the equipment appropriately ensuring that each process is completed before the workers begin the next process. An effective safety system might address pertinent safety concerns including:
- Restrain the truck and trailer using restraining devices and wheel chocks,
- Protect the open dock area,
- Always remain on level or uphill terrain when around a moving load
- Direct ongoing communications with the forklift operator and truck driver on the status of the trailer restraints
- Ensure there is a smooth transition from the bed of the trailer to the floor of the dock.
- Restrict walking workers from entering the loading zone while loading and unloading.
- Secure cargo loads on cranes, forklifts, and trucks appropriately.
- Train truckers and loaders to identify hazardous conditions.
- Require all workers to follow safe work practices.
- Establish procedures and protocols to ensure employees and equipment are clear of wheels and trailers while the truck is approaching or leaving the dock.
Common Injuries Sustained By Dock Workers
Even if employers and workers follow guidelines to ensure their safety, accidents still occur. The most common types of injuries associated with loading dock incidents involve:
- Lifting cargo improperly leading to sprains and strains;
- Broken and crushed bones caused by colliding with forklifts, trucks, falling on and off the dock, or crushing injuries from falling stacked materials;
- Bruises and cuts;
- Spinal cord injury caused by being crushed or falling; and
- TBI (traumatic brain injury) caused by head trauma from falling cargo
Generally Preventable Accidents (With Proper Supervision & Training)
As OSHA continues to gather information and statistics on injuries and fatalities occurring in loading docks, employers are encouraged to develop effective plans to maintain a safe work environment. The federal agency notes that the serious injuries and wrongful deaths associated with loading and unloading a truck and trailer are preventable.
However, this requires identifying any hazard on the loading dock before moving cargo in her off the truck and trailer. Preventing an accident requires personnel assessing any potential dangers before the process of moving cargo begins.