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Better safety practice

12 December 2012

Fast vehicle turnround is vital but this cannot be allowed to undermine safety, says Andrew Georgiou, GM - Loading Bay Division, Stertil UK and president of ALEM As an industry, UK suppliers of loading bay equipment a

Fast vehicle turnround is vital but this cannot be allowed to undermine safety, says Andrew Georgiou, GM - Loading Bay Division, Stertil UK and president of ALEM

As an industry, UK suppliers of loading bay equipment are uncompromising in their quest to ensure the highest standards of safety.

Consequently, all leading manufacturers and suppliers are active members of The Association of Loading and Elevating Equipment Manufacturers (ALEM). The Association keeps its membership fully informed about new safety legislation and standards relating to the industry, particularly dock levellers and scissor lifts. As a UK association, ALEM has a voice on the European FEM working group that helps to agree EN standards so, understandably, there is considerable security in ensuring that a preferred supplier is a member of ALEM.

To ensure that loading bay equipment suppliers maintain safety standards, it is important that end users understand their own docking requirements and that this information is communicated to the suppliers in order that the optimum equipment is specified. For instance, they should be aware of the different types of delivery/despatch vehicles that need to be accommodated, the types of materials handling equipment available to undertake loading and unloading duties, how the external deliveries interface and communicate with the internal operators plus, of course, the type, size and throughput of loads to be handled.

When considering the purchase of loading bay equipment, it's worth remembering that European manufacturers are required to be CE-compliant to ensure that their products conform to agreed standards. However, although non-EU manufacturers should ensure CEcompliance, they are often unaware of, or ignore, the required standards. As an example, on dock levellers supplied from outside the UK, it is not uncommon to discover that toe guards are not incorporated into their design - a very basic and dangerous omission.

Training is another area that is often overlooked but can contribute greatly to personnel confidence and safety.

Understandably, every site will have its own characteristics and requirements. It is important, therefore, that each site should create its own safe working practices and communicate them effectively to every member of staff. In turn, a good loading bay equipment supplier will understand the company's requirements and help design operating systems to meet these requirements in accordance with existing standards and legislation. Regular training will ensure that all personnel are well versed in the safe operation of installed equipment and regular checks by competent personnel will ensure that safety standards are maintained.

One major problem that plagues operators of materials handling equipment within loading bays is the high incidence of back injuries. These, of course, frequently result in absence from work and the loss of experienced personnel. Such injuries are often the result of continually running pallet trucks and similar handling equipment across a dock leveller's 'lip crown angle' (the angle between the leveller's platform and lip when it is interfaced with the vehicle), or while traversing the gap created by hinges located at the rear of the platform. However, the smooth transfer of loads can be achieved by selecting: A dock leveller that reduces the lip crown angle by the incorporation of a special hinged parallelogram lip which automatically remains horizontal at all times thereby maintaining the optimum lip-to-platform angle.

A dock leveller that minimises the gap in the rear hinge and/or absorbs energy from traversing vehicles.

Successful traffic management within a busy loading bay is perhaps the biggest contributor to safety, and effective communication lies at its heart.

Traditionally, problems have occurred when internal operators have not been aware when vehicles are correctly in position or when drivers have been unsure whether or not vehicle loading and unloading operations have been completed. Add to this the increasing numbers of foreign, non English-speaking drivers and the potential for serious accidents is obvious.

The need to ensure safe working in such circumstances has led some companies to install a traffic light system to let a driver know when it is safe to drive away from the loading bay. Other users may decide to rely upon a key-based arrangement that monitors and records who last used a particular bay thereby creating personal responsibility and accountability. Both of these systems will virtually eliminate the risk of accidents if they are adhered to correctly. However, both can and do fail due to human error. Consequently, the best system to prevent the accidental driving away from a loading bay is one that physically restrains the vehicle and there is a wide range of options available.

Having invested in loading bay systems that safely support their operations, companies need to be made aware of the importance of regular servicing and maintenance. Existing legal requirements, covered by such regulations as PUWER, Health & Safety at Work etc, place a responsibility on users to ensure that their loading bay equipment is maintained regularly and appropriately. This means that careful consideration must be given to the type and frequency of loading bay use, ie a 9-5 working day involving the manual handling of roll cages will require less maintenance than a 24/7 three shift operation utilising fork trucks to transport huge paper reels.