Safety First

Todd Brennan: What’s up, dock?

Wednesday, 27 February 2008 ( #349 )
Todd Brennan is the founder and owner of Forkpro Australia. A former chairman of the Australian Industrial Truck Engineering Committee, Brennan aims to "fill the forklift safety gap" with Forkpro's forklift training courses. Together with his team, he has assisted tertiary institutions, including the Melbourne-based Monash University Accident Research Centre's forklift safety project.
Sometimes people say that I need to get a life! This is probably a direct reflection of the fact that I say things like "when I was looking on YouTube the other night..." However, take the time to look on YouTube or some of the other open web spaces and type in "forklift accidents" and you will find an extraordinary number of forklift-related incidents, many of which are downloads from security cameras.
One that pops up often is forklifts going off raised loading docks. Now, this does not surprise me as so many of the places I have visited over the years have experienced incidents of this very nature. I have not recorded any hard and fast data, but I would have to say it would be close to 100% of all clients with raised docks. This column deals with only raised docks where forklifts enter trailers - not level loading docks where loads are placed on trailer decks.
Why are these incidents so common? It is not something we hear a lot about. Simply, it is usually due to the categorisation of accidents. If a forklift goes off a dock, it usually rolls over and thus is classed as a roll-over incident.

There are several situations that commonly arise:
  • Truck 'drive-aways': The transport driver leaves the loading dock prematurely, leaving the forklift and driver stranded in the trailer or falling to the ground. I like to call this 'premature evacuation'!
  • Trailer roll away/leg fold up: 'Roll-aways' are common where appropriate dock plates are not used. The weight of the forklift wheels crossing the gap pushes the trailer and the forklift falls through - either partially or fully. In some cases, the trailer landing legs are not properly secured and the trailers move when the forklift weight enters the trailer.
  • Failing to stop in time: Often, open loading docks are polished concrete and when they become wet, it is very difficult to stop a forklift - especially reach trucks.
  • 'Didn't see the edge': This may seem implausible, however losing sight of the edge is easier than you would think.
Yes, there are plenty of ways to control these risks and in reality this should be considered in the design phase of all new and renovated warehouse facilities. There are companies that deal specifically in the supply of dock safety equipment. Where possible, an annexed loading dock provides much more security against falls plus keeps the weather out. However, there are plenty of 'add-ons' available including:
  • Dock plate/leveling systems

  • Removable rails

  • Stop/go light systems

  • Interlocking trailer locks

This last one is an interesting development and shows how big a problem this is. There are several designs that lock the trailer to the dock face. Once the trailer is backed into position it is secured either by a hook under the trailer rear crash bar or, in some cases, locking the trailer wheels. Some are actually strong enough to support the trailer in case of a landing leg collapse as well as keeping the trailer hard against the dock. Of course, they are used in conjunction with a dock leveling/bridge plate.

Really, these are accidents that should not happen with a good dock control procedure in place and an effective suite of control measures. Initial planning of facilities must take into account these best practices around raised docks. However, we do not always have the luxury of designing from the beginning and thus the rise of the 'add-on' type countermeasures mentioned above. Do you realise the height of some loading docks comes close to invoking certain fall from height legislation? That also brings up the subject of dealing with other risks in loading dock areas such as safe handling of side gates, tarping of loads and pedestrian management - but those are subjects for another day.

Anyway must fly - time to rearrange my sock drawer!
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