June 2005 | How-To | Ten Tips

Boosting Loading Dock Safety and Productivity

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The loading dock is a critical component of the Material Transfer Zone (MTZ), whic. reaches from the drive approach into the shipping/receiving/staging area. The MTZ covers a broad range of concerns including: dock positioning and design, trailer design, load configuration, dock equipment systems, and the interaction between material handling vehicles and product shipments.

A smooth-flowing MTZ lets companies avoid delays, minimize accidents, prevent product damage, meet schedules—and ultimately, satisfy customers. This ideal MTZ can only exist, however, if the loading dock is properly designed and maintained. With effective loading dock processes, companies can realize significant gains in productivity, energy efficiency, and safety, while cutting costs.

Here are 10 tips for improving productivity and safety on the loading dock.

1. Conduct a safety audit. Companies often don' t think about dock safety until an accident occurs. But thinking ahead pays off. A safety audit is an excellent way to examine operations and make necessary adjustments to ensure employee safety.

2. Evaluate security. Examine points of entry to see how easy it is to gain access to your facility via the loading dock. To increase security, connect overhead doors and vehicle restraints to your facility' s security system—an alarm will sound if a door is breached, or a trailer is released without authorization.

3. Keep up with maintenance. Put your loading dock' s mechanical components—dock levelers, vehicle restraints, and overhead doors—on a regular maintenance schedule. Be sure to clean, lubricate, and adjust major moving parts. This type of regular maintenance program helps extend product life, enhance reliability, and increase productivity by reducing downtime.

4. Examine loading dock accessories. Lights, dock bumpers, trailer stands, and other aftermarket parts and accessories are important components of loading dock operations. But bulbs easily burn out, dock bumpers may wear out or fall off, and other items also suffer damage. Take an inventory of this type of equipment once or twice a year to ensure everything is still in place and working properly.

5. Repair or replace dock seals and shelters. Inefficient dock seals cost businesses thousands of dollars each year in energy costs. They also cause employee discomfort during bad weather. To ensure air does not infiltrate the building, regularly check overhead doors' vertical seals and bottom seals, as well as the seals along the perimeter of the dock leveler to make sure they' re not leaking. If your operation uses trailers with swing-out doors, the open space created by the doors' hinge gaps equates to 2.5 square feet of unsealed space. It' s important to use a shelter that seals off these gaps.

6. Check dock doors. Maintaining, repairing, and replacing dock doors is costly—but sometimes necessary. Thankfully, a variety of solutions are available to help deflect impact, which minimizes dock door damage. If your doors are too damaged to repair, replace them with high-impact doors, designed to handle any abuse thrown their way.

7. Use dock equipment controls. If your loading dock is equipped with dock levelers, overhead doors, and vehicle restraints, consider using interlocks and interconnects. More cost-effective than they were five to 10 years ago, these retrofits create a safer working environment and more consistent equipment use by dock employees.

8. Keep loading docks dry. Water on the loading dock creates a hazardous situation for employees. It can also ruin merchandise. Water damage most commonly occurs when rain or melting snow flows onto the trailer bed and dock leveler. Use rain diversion header seals as a cost-effective way to prevent water infiltration. These seals keep the building owner from having to re-grade the drive approach or rebuild the dock face to keep employees and products dry.

9. Upgrade dock equipment. Many dock leveler manufacturers offer programs enabling clients to upgrade from mechanical operation to push-button operation, or add vehicle restraints to maintain current safety standards without replacing the entire unit. You don' t have to invest in completely new dock equipment to realize operational efficiencies. It helps, however, to get a realistic estimate of the existing equipment' s life expectancy before considering any upgrades.

10. Replace equipment when necessary. In many cases, loading docks built 15 to 20 years ago simply aren' t equipped to handle today' s larger loads and trailers. Trying to squeeze in larger loads can cause significant damage to door jams, door headers, door tracks, pit sidewalls, dock leveler pit sidewalls, and dock bumpers. It also can damage products. Replacing existing loading dock equipment with larger doors, shelters, and levelers may be the best solution. Though not a cheap fix, this will help increase productivity and safety, while reducing facility, equipment, and product damage.

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