warehouse loading dock

Loading docks are one of the most integral parts of the warehouse with high levels of traffic. However, they also present hazards to employees and transportation vendors, with approximately 25 per cent of reported warehouse injuries occurring at loading docks. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve safety without sacrificing efficiency. Below are seven tips to enhance loading dock safety.  


A loading dock, or loading bay, is a warehouse area where goods are loaded and unloaded. One of the main hazards in this area is the frequent use of large equipment and machinery, such as forklifts, trucks, and trailers. Loading docks are also subjected to different weather conditions that make the area slippery and increase fall risk. These hazards must also be managed in a fast-paced environment. For these reasons, keeping loading docks safe can be challenging, but it is crucial to help ensure workers are safe and keep warehouse procedures running smoothly.


Identify and remove potential hazards

Loading docks have inert risks that cannot be avoided completely. However, being aware of these risks, having access to proper equipment (e.g., PPE), and understanding how risk can be minimized or prevented can help reduce accident rates.

For example, it is crucial to keep the loading area clean and clear. This improves efficiency and minimizes the chances of tripping or falling. Loading docks are subjected to various weather conditions that can make the area slippery or dirty, so it is essential to have cleaning equipment readily available and ensure employees keep the site clean and dry.

Keeping the floors clean includes ensuring floors are free of garbage (be sure to hang a rack sack resuable trash bag on your racking) , packaging, tools, spills, etc. Having signage warning employees about potentially wet or cluttered floors can be helpful.

Signage can also inform employees of the dock edges, forklift or truck lanes, equipment organization, etc. Proper maintenance of the loading dock is also essential. Broken, cracked, or uneven flooring can cause workers to trip or fall and pose safety risks to machine operators.

Examples of other loading dock hazards include:

  • Falling off dock edges
  • Unsecured dock plates
  • Illnesses from inhaling carbon monoxide from trucks
  • Reckless driving
  • Not correctly disposing of combustible trash (e.g., oily rags)
  • Exceeding weight or capacity limits

Ensure proper training

Proper training is crucial to loading dock safety. Loading docks often have many employees coming in and out of the area, along with different types of large machinery. Much of these jobs require extensive training to ensure employees know how to properly do their jobs and work safely with or alongside others.

For example, forklifts are frequently used on loading docks. These are large pieces of equipment that pose a risk to operators (e.g., turnovers) and coworkers (e.g., collisions), and around 75 to 100 people are killed each year in forklift-related incidents. However, many of these incidents result from improper training of operators. Therefore, ensuring employees are trained and certified can reduce accidents and injuries significantly.

Use correct loading and unloading procedures

Another common loading dock hazard is injuries resulting from improper loading and unloading of items.

One of the main tasks on a loading dock is receiving or shipping out items, which involves frequent lifting and handling. However, improper lifting and handling can cause overexertion, muscle injuries, and musculoskeletal disorders. Therefore, employees must be adequately trained on loading and unloading protocols.

For example, using forklifts or dollies to lift items whenever possible minimizes the chance of worker-related lifting injuries, such as muscle strain or sprain. If workers must lift an item, they must receive proper ergonomic and task-specific training (e.g., lifting with their legs instead of their back). Proper loading and unloading procedures also extend to the use of equipment (e.g., overloading of a forklift can cause a turnover).  

Safeguarding dock doors

The dock door is one of the more dangerous areas of the loading dock. Much of the loading and unloading takes place and is the point of contact between the warehouse and the outside. Fortunately, equipment and technology can help make this area safer for employees.

One example is dock door seals or shelters. Weather conditions can cause additional safety concerns, such as dirty or slippery floors. Seals or shelters can shield docks from rain or snow, making floors safer and cleaner.

Keeping dock plates in place is also important. Dock plates bridge the gap between the truck or trailer and the dock. This helps ensure workers or machine operators can safely load and unload items. If dock plates are not secured, they may fall, causing injury to workers or damage to goods. Ensuring items do not exceed load capacity is also important. 

Dock gap guards are also useful. The product covers the gap between the edge of the dock plate and the dock door frame opening. This can reduce foot and ankle injuries caused by stepping into the opening.

Other types of safeguarding can include signage, vehicle restraints, bumpers, barriers, guards, gates, etc.

Control traffic

Dock guard gap plates

There are many workers on foot and using machinery on a loading dock. This increases the risk for specific hazards such as collisions to occur. However, strategies can be implemented to reduce these risks. For example, designating walking and machinery lanes can minimize the chance of collision and improve traffic flow. Signage can also denote areas where machine operators frequent, so they know to be more vigilant in those areas. Having workers on foot wearing reflective clothing can be another layer of protection.


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