Tackling the loading bay danger zone
10 May 2013
Key suppliers offer advice on loading bay safety - on the products, processes and practices that could save lives at your operation.
A high level of activity and a very dynamic environment creating a wide variety of risks make the loading bay perhaps the most dangerous part of the warehouse.
According to Health & Safety Executive statistics, more than half of employee fatal injuries come from being struck by vehicles; being struck by falling objects; or falling from height. These are all risks present in the loading bay.
So what can warehouse managers do to counter these threats? Clearly, a solid risk assessment must be carried out. In the wake of this, helpful practices and products must be identified and implemented.
One of the most common safety issues in the loading bay is that of vehicle restraint. Indeed, just last month, two companies were ordered to pay a total of £794,658 in fines and costs after a driver was run over and killed by his own lorry.
Death in the loading area
Gary Walters, 51, was working for Gloucester-based contract haulier Larkins Logistics when the fatal incident occurred on 11 October 2010. He was collecting a trailer loaded with structural concrete products from Bison Manufacturing.
He failed to apply the brake in his cab and, because Bison’s drivers had not applied the brake to the trailer, the vehicle moved off as he was coupling the two parts together.
Mr Walters is believed to have gone round the front of the vehicle, possibly in an attempt to get into the cab and apply the brakes, but he was struck by the cab and run over. He died of multiple injuries.
This and many other tragedies should focus the minds of all managers on the seriousness of health and safety in and around the loading area.
Manufacturers have been grappling with the issue vehicle restraints for years and there is a wide variety of suppliers with strong offerings on the market.
Stertil Stokvis general manager Andy Georgiou says: "Communication between drivers and distribution personnel in loading bays can be poor. "The Combilok vehicle restraint system was developed exclusively to reduce the risk of unintentional vehicle movement on loading bays and offers a ‘safety net’ against poor communication by holding vehicles in one place until loading or unloading is completed. Not only does this improve safety, it also eliminates damage to expensive goods and equipment and helps guard against theft.”
During operation, the Combilok is fully interlocked: the loading bay door cannot be opened until the Combilok is in position and the Combilok cannot be released until the door is closed again and it is safe to drive away. Totally automatic in operation, the Combilok also overcomes any language difficulties that may arise with drivers delivering from all over the world.
In addition, Hormann says a dock buffer with integrated proximity sensor guides a vehicle onto a loading bay via the external traffic light system. Once on the bay a wheel chock, also with integrated sensor, needs to be correctly positioned before the loading bay controls will operate.
"An alternative to the proximity sensor is the use of wheel locks and a driver operated button that will activate the loading bay controls once the driver has confirmed his vehicle is docked correctly and the wheel locks engaged," explains Hormann UK's commercial director Alan Jenkins.
Driving the issue
A related issue is that of driveaways. This is when a vehicle is hooked up to a dock for loading or unloading and prematurely drives off, damaging the dock in the process and putting people in danger.
Salvo’s global sales manager Jason Reed explains a product in his company’s portfolio is designed to eliminate this danger. "We would recommend the implementation of a Salvo trapped-key interlocking system. It removes the element of human error in controlling the risk and the need to police / manage procedures such as driver key control, traffic lights and signs. It also prevents short cuts from being taken and speeds up efficiency.”
Indeed, every element of the loading bay can benefit from the use of specific equipment dedicated to protecting against a specific issue.
Andy Miller of Pickerings Lifts’ Loading Systems says: "Loading bays are notoriously busy areas. Everyone is focused on the task at hand and safety can sometimes fall down the list of priorities due to the pressure of loading and unloading – meaning one thing – accidents.
"Physical controls are vital in ensure bay safety and one product which we supply frequently is our range of hydraulic dock levellers.
"The height of a vehicle load can vary considerably due to a vehicle’s weight and the type of load it’s carrying. This means the height difference between the loading bay platform and vehicle platform may vary too. To ensure a safe load, dock levellers are used to balance out the variance.
"The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) advises that it’s better to have a bay platform slightly lower than the vehicle platform, rather than one slightly higher – if a complete balance can not be found.
Provided exclusively by Pickerings Lifts, Keeley hydraulic dock levellers feature premier lug-style lip hinges, simplified hydraulics, internal velocity fuses and open frames.
Also, when lorry cab units are disconnected, the trailer can tip forward due to uneven weight distribution. The Thorworld Trailer Safety Support prevents this.
Furthermore, dock seals and shelters prevent water and weather ingress, thus preventing trip/slip hazards in the loading area and also assist in maintaining temperatures, especially in cold stores.
Advice from the HSE
The Health & Safety Executive says managers responsible for loading bays should seek advice. The risk assessment should include answers to these questions:
• Where will goods be loaded and unloaded?
• Who needs to be in the loading/unloading area – and who doesn't?
• Is there enough space around the bays for loading and unloading to take place safety?
• Is the vehicle loading platform the same height as the loading bay platform?
• What is visibility like for the drivers using the loading bay?
• Could people fall from platforms or bays?
• What are the risks of using dock shelters?
• Is there an electrical risk associated with loading or unloading?
• Have the people using the loading bay been trained to do so safely?
Further valuable help can be found at the HSE website - http://www.hse.gov.uk/workplacetransport/loading.htm
Thorworld managing director, John Meale cautions against looking at any one product as a silver bullet and advises warehouse managers to consider safety from all angles. "
It is worth emphasising that loading bay safety isn’t just about the point of loading, but should include getting to and from that point safely. With that in mind, it is essential to have a robust site infrastructure that permits safe access to loading areas, separation of vehicles from pedestrians, and other basic safety features. Ideal products to achieve this include traffic lights, dock lights, barriers, alignment curbs, roadways and walkways,” he explains.
He also says it is not enough to look at off-the-shelf products. "The aim is to ensure long-term safety in tandem with the reliable performance of the loading bay. This begins at the point of investment: it is vital to ensure that the solutions supplied are tailored to suit your site requirements. Not all sites operate the same way so off-the-shelf items might not always be appropriate.”
Flat floor sites
We cannot assume that every loading or unloading site operates with docks. Many don’t and this can present an added danger. One company that has invested considerably in examining this area and devising solutions is Transdek.
General manager & director Leon Butler explains: "At the numerous flat floor sites that still operate without loading docks, lifting products to and from goods vehicles can be a dangerous procedure, resulting in serious accidents and safety hazards to loaders and drivers. Even some of the largest retail chains struggle to offload pallets at stores without docks. Generally, in this situation a combination of fork-trucks and pallet trucks are used to transfer goods from vehicles.”
To tackle this issue, Transdek has developed the vehicle to ground (V2G) loading system, which is specifically designed to facilitate the loading and unloading of single and double deck trailers to ground level at flat floor sites. These surface mounted, hydraulic lifts offer a way to load and unload, reducing the manual handling strain on operators.
Butler continues: "V2G lifts are built with a comprehensive range of safety features including electronically interlocked safety gates to the front and rear of the load platform that extend into the vehicle and lock into position along the sides of the bridging plate to prevent falls between the lift and the vehicle. The interlocked gates also prevent falls of operators and product from the platform while the lift is in operation. The lifts also feature LED traffic lights to advise drivers about the loading status and help to prevent drive-aways. These are fully interlocked to the lift and loadhouse door.”
As well as choosing the right product, it is vital that companies look closely at the company they choose to partner with on loading bay safety.
Easilift sales director David Whyatt says: "Whether companies are building new loading bays or upgrading existing set-ups, it is essential that they speak to accredited loading bay specialists at the beginning of the process. We recommend looking at members of the Association of Loading and Elevating Equipment Manufacturers (ALEM).
"With early consultation, safety can be designed in from the outset, saving money long-term and ensuring that efficiency and safety are considered jointly. Architects do not always appreciate the nuances of loading bay operation; by taking advantage of manufacturers’ expertise, they can be fully briefed on how to optimise designs for every customer.”
Ongoing safety practice
After choosing the right product for your site and company and selecting a trusted partner, the next important step to master in order to maximise safety in the loading bay is maintenance and ongoing care of docks and loading and unloading equipment.
Whyatt continues: "Once the loading bay is up and running, the key service to consider is aftercare. A robust maintenance regime will ensure the long-term performance and reliability of the equipment, and enable potential risks to be identified and resolved before they create safety issues. Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) is the most comprehensive means of achieving this, and engineer visits should be scheduled according to the age and usage of each loading bay.”
Many companies offer management systems that help to monitor equipment and processes. Such a tool can be useful to a company that has decided to keep a very close vigil over loading bay operations, in order to both maximise efficiency and see off accidents.
Transdek’s Leon Butler says: "We recommend that planned preventative maintenance (PPM) is carried out to deliver continuous productivity in the loading bay and to help prolong equipment lifetime.
"Our Advanced Management System (AMS) incorporates an external maintenance management system including remote trouble-shooting and cyclical maintenance to ensure the continuous, safe working order of equipment. An in-house maintenance management program is also available and provides real time information for rapid fault finding and efficient machine operation.”
The system is able to supply information on loading bay activity, vehicle payloads and plant operations that can be organised to give facilities managers, despatch managers and OEMs a comprehensive breakdown of what the machine or loading bay has done over a set time period. It can also be interfaced with Transdek’s Load Weight Monitor, which ensures the correct load distribution between upper and lower vehicle decks to minimise the risk of vehicle rollovers.
"Maintenance is a big issue in the UK," adds Hormann UK's Alan Jenkins. "There is still a tendency to wait until something breaks before calling in service engineers. However this can lead to unsafe practices as operators find ways to work around issues. Ultimately a service contract will provide a programme of preventative maintenance such that equipment operates correctly and tends to have an extended service life. This has the benefits of reduced downtime, better safety and lower costs."
Perhaps products and processes are the easiest and most predictable parts of the solution to put in place. Perhaps the most difficult and least predictable element is the human being.
This makes employee awareness a critical issue as Andy Georgiou from Stertil Stokvis explains: "We recommend regular training and audits in safe systems of work and risk assessments. Speak regularly to employees and encourage them to be involved in communicating any problems and any ideas on how things could be improved.”
At most sites the loading area is a focal point and a hive of activity. It’s an area which brings together different vehicles from trucks and trailer to forklifts, drivers – who are often someone else’s employees and site warehouse staff. With so many factors and potential risks at play, it’s unsurprising that the HSE states that 15% of all reported workplace transport injuries happen during unloading and loading. However, most of these are avoidable if the correct steps are taken.
Andy Miller of Pickerings says: "Well designed physical controls are vital to ensuring workplace safety, however these can not work alone and instead need to work in conjunction with carefully planning, putting into place robust procedures and one of the most important steps is to implement good levels of communication.”
For Thorworld, people management in the safety arena boils down to four key elements: Information, Instruction, Training, Supervision.
John Meale explains: "These should be built into the loading bay as a matter of best practice. For example, communication on ongoing hazards should be constant through the use of traffic lights, beacons, audible sirens and signage. Similarly, best practice can minimise or remove the need to have operators at ground level between vehicles and buildings, a key area of accidents.”
Choosing the right supplier is key.
Hormann UK's Alan Jenkins says: "Choose a supplier who fully understands both your needs and the full range of options that are available. Ideally the supplier will be able to work with you to develop the right choices to fit with both your operational and budgetary needs.
"All equipment that is supplied must be fit for purpose and conform to the latest EU standards and legislative requirements. From July new regulations on CE marking come in to force, which put the onus onto the installer to ensure this is correctly completed.
"Sourcing the complete package from one supplier, from initial consultation, through design to installation, commissioning and training would offer the best guarantee that the options and equipment selected deliver the levels of safe operation desired.”
To conclude, warehouse operatives should be trained, supervised, monitored and tested for understanding. Training is paramount and safety precautions should always be enforced. You must make sure your employees are aware of the potential dangers around the loading bay and regularly review operations, new processes, changes in the working environment and employees’ alertness and awareness of their surroundings.
Blending this culture with the products needed to get the job done will go a long way to helping you reduce the risk of serious injury in loading areas.