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Tackling a high-risk area

01 September 2015

Alan Jenkins, commercial director at industrial door and loading bay manufacturer Hörmann (UK) discusses what measures can be taken to improve safety in the warehouse as well as looking at the technology available to assist with this.

Health and safety is one of the main concerns for warehouse managers today. The loading bay in particular has long been considered one of the most dangerous areas of the warehouse.

With operational equipment containing many moving parts, vehicles and pedestrians utilising the same spaces, and fall and slip hazards from raised trailers, it’s hardly surprising that the docking area can be home to so many risks.

The majority of businesses have procedures in place to reduce the chances of an accident, but even with thorough training, operational safety can still be open to human error. While eliminating danger entirely is not possible, technology and straightforward designed-in solutions can play a significant role in minimising the risk.

In zones used by both pedestrians and lorries, barriers along walkways could be a simple way to ensure that employees don’t step out into the path of a moving vehicle. Likewise, designated crossing points make it easier for drivers and pedestrians to spot each other.

Loading bay technology itself has progressed significantly in recent years. Intelligent docking systems with built-in sensors, such as those from Hörmann, are proving increasingly popular in busy warehouses, where operations need to be both safe and fast moving. These systems can be connected to traffic lights which help the driver to reverse into the correct position by signalling the distance between the rear of the trailer and the dock buffers.

Traffic lights on both sides of the loading bay door can also be used to advise drivers and workers when it is safe to load, unload or move the vehicle, and control systems can be programmed to ensure activity takes place in the correct sequence. For example, some systems prevent the door from opening until the vehicle is properly docked and the wheel chocks are securely in place.

To minimise the risk of accidents around moving vehicles, and to reduce unloading time, another option that can be incorporated is a recess in the ramp that allows a vehicle’s doors to open fully after it has docked in the loading bay. This also means that the goods can remain well protected in the trailer until they are ready to be unloaded.

With the loading bay potentially open to the elements, it is also important to consider slip hazards from rainwater run-off. Inflatable curtains can help to reduce this risk, especially if they are installed as part of a sequenced system that prevents the door from opening until the curtain has fully inflated, creating a weather-proof seal around the trailer.

Dock levellers are also extremely valuable for reducing loading bay hazards; however, it’s important to ensure levellers are suitable for the type of vehicles being used on site. Manufacturers will be able to advise on the weight limits for their products, which should be carefully considered before installation.

An anti-twist platform is one functionality worth looking out for when choosing a dock leveller. This will help to compensate for any lorry tilting when loads are unequal, reducing the chance of slips or falls. Similarly, the lift mechanism of the dock leveller can improve stability. Hydraulic platforms with two or more legs will offer more stability than single lift designs, and will bear uneven weights more securely.

Regular maintenance and inspection should not be forgotten. Keeping up with service schedules will ensure that equipment is up to scratch and should flag any potential problems before they become safety hazards. After all, well-kept equipment is unlikely to fail.

If you suspect a fault in any machinery or mechanisms, get it checked out as soon as possible. A good maintenance package will include an emergency call out service, which will ensure that equipment is repaired swiftly to minimise downtime. Hörmann, for instance, offers a 24/7 support service that features a number of total preventative repair and maintenance packages.

Safety in the warehouse has improved significantly over recent years. However, we should not become complacent. Warehouse managers must implement correct procedures and pressure should be put on manufacturers to develop products and systems that help design-out hazards. If these are both taken into account, the warehouses and loading bays of the future will be the safest yet.