Loading bays: The most dangerous places in the transport industry?

Paul Boughton

An estimated 25 per cent of all factory and warehouse accidents in the UK occur in the loading bay area Christopher Knollys looks at the safety issues

According to the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the transport and storage sector has a considerably higher rate of injury than the UK average, and has the second highest rate of total injuries. An estimated 25 per cent of all factory and warehouse accidents occur in the loading bay area, which is not surprising when considering the volume of traffic using loading bays, as well as the variety of personnel who are required to work in the area.

These substantial risks mean that regular risk assessments need to be carried out to ensure that the necessary safety equipment and procedures are in place and working correctly. Furthermore, those personnel working in the loading bay area need to be properly trained in the use of the equipment and the safe working practices required to ensure safe operation of the loading dock.

In general there are two types of loading bay – ground level and raised dock, with the latter posing the greater potential for accidents. A raised dock area requires an increased level of awareness due to the risks of falling from height. Additional equipment is required to prevent either personnel or lifting equipment from falling due to gaps between the dock and the vehicle.

However, even the basic ground level loading bay must be assessed carefully. The main issue with loading bays is the number of people in the area, some of whom may not be familiar with the local procedures and site layout. The first step to minimise risk is to ensure that all personnel, especially drivers, are aware of vehicle routes to the loading bays and the designated pedestrian routes to access any rest areas during loading/unloading.

When assessing the raised loading dock area, the number of potential areas for concern increases. One of the more common issues is an unplanned trailer departure, where the driver believes the loading/unloading operation is complete and leaves the loading dock. This can have very serious consequences for any personnel or goods in the area as well as causing possible damage to the loading bay and vehicle.

The most common solution is to install a traffic management system, whereby green and red traffic lights are used to provide clear instructions, not only to the vehicle drivers, but also to warehouse staff. Once a trailer is correctly docked, the driver can use the system to alert warehouse staff that the loading bay doors can be opened safely. Once the loading/unloading has been completed, the warehouse staff activate the system to provide a green light to the driver, allowing him to safely depart the loading bay.

Another major area for concern is the powered loading bay doors, which form a vital part of the loading bay. With doors operating at higher speeds, safety features have been developed to protect personnel, equipment and goods from damage in the event of doors closing at the wrong time. Many doors use contact safety edges that reverse upon light contact with obstructions, while this reduces the risk of serious harm to personnel it can still cause minor injuries and damage to products.

saraLBS has developed a safety system that completely prevents contact with any obstructions. Known as the non-contact safety beam it uses pre-running photocells, a beam that detects any obstructions and reverses the closing doors. The award winning design incorporates a photocell which runs an inch below the closing door preventing any contact or damage to personnel or goods.

The next area to address is that of water ingress into the loading bay area. With the UK's weather, rain is never far away and water entering the dock loading area can create a slip hazard for both pedestrians and those using mechanical equipment. Most loading bays have canopies, curtains or shelters to create a weather shield. However, this may be compromised by ill-fitting seals or different vehicle and trailer designs, such as trailers designed to improve aerodynamics – known as ‘teardrop’ trailers. The sloping design means that water will naturally run backwards into the loading area.

Good dock canopy fit will also benefit the chill chain for fresh/frozen food suppliers by helping to keep the temperature maintained within the warehouse. Consider the type of canopy most suitable for your operations, particularly where the loading bay/vehicle or trailer fit may have changed – for example with the increased use of teardrop or double-decked trailers.

Finally, the dock levelling systems that are designed to bridge the gap between the trailer and the loading bay and act as a ramp when there is a height difference between the two. These can take many forms and can adjust their gradient either mechanically or hydraulically. However, they must be specified correctly and maintained properly to ensure correct operation.

Any failures with these systems can cause delays to loading and unloading, but more critical is the risk of injury to warehouse staff who try to work around an issue with a levelling ramp, when the bay should have been closed until a repair is completed.

In this modern day and age, everyone is expected to take responsibility for their own safety as well as the safety of others. Where we know there is an increased risk of injury, special care should be taken to ensure that all the correct equipment and procedures are in place. Part of this process can be accomplished by using experienced and knowledgeable companies, such as sara Loading Bay Specialists, to supply and install the most appropriate equipment for your business.

Christopher Knollys is Managing Director, sara Loading Bay Specialists Ltd.

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