August 2007 | How-To | Ten Tips

Securing Your Loading Dock

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Securing your warehouse starts at the loading dock. A secure loading dock protects your warehouse, and expedites the flow of incoming and outgoing trailers. Walt Swietlik, customer relations manager for Rite-Hite Products Corporation, Milwaukee, Wis., offers these tips to help button up your loading dock.

1. Realize the loading dock is more than a dock. The loading dock is an entry point into a facility. Many decision-makers also view it as a Material Transfer Zone (MTZ) and a critical part of the supply chain. The MTZ is where critical exchanges of raw materials and finished goods take place. It reaches from a company's drive approach well into the shipping/receiving/staging area, where raw materials and products are exposed to terrorist acts and theft.

2. Get familiar with government initiatives. Pay close attention to federal government initiatives from agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security; Food and Drug Administration; U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service; and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These agencies' guidelines and programs impact the supply chain, and drive the need to tighten up areas of materials handling - including the MTZ - that are susceptible to security threats.

3. Conduct a security audit. Examine points of entry to see how easy - or difficult - it is to gain access to your facility via the loading dock. Remember, you can easily connect overhead doors and vehicle restraints to your facility's security system. An alarm will sound when a door is breached or a trailer is released without authorization. Security systems manufacturers offer plenty of information - and many provide free dock inspections.

4. Secure dock doors. Standard locking mechanisms on most manually operated, exterior overhead dock doors can be easily broken, allowing unauthorized entry into the plant. Conventional slide locks also wear over time, and become ineffective if not repaired or replaced. Additionally, these same locks are often improperly used and security problems can result. Think about installing automatic lock-down security systems that keep manual sectional doors secure.

5. Keep doors closed, employees comfortable. Keeping dock doors open on hot days is not always a sound practice. Yet keeping doors closed creates an uncomfortable and unproductive environment during hot summer months. To remedy the situation, retrofit doors with stainless steel ventilation panels that are strong enough to provide security, but at the same time allow outside air and light into the plant. Another idea is to better circulate air using technically advanced High-Volume/Low-Speed (HV/LS) industrial fans.

6. Lock landing gear. Often, a truck driver pulls a trailer up against an open dock door, sets the trailer on its landing gear, and drives away. Doing so creates a security risk at an unattended dock because the nose of the trailer can be raised or lowered to create a space between the trailer and the open door. To avoid this unwanted access point, equip the trailer landing gear with dependable locks that prevent the trailer from being raised or lowered.

7. Protect trailer contents during unloading. Use vertical storing hydraulic dock levelers to protect against product tampering during the unloading process. The levelers store in a vertical or upright position inside the facility behind the dock door. As such, a semi-trailer can back against the facility with the doors of the trailer closed to form a "seal" around the back of the trailer. Employees can then open the dock door and subsequently open the trailer doors to gain access to trailer contents. The truck driver doesn't need to stop 80 feet away from the dock, open the trailer doors, then back the rig up to the dock for unloading. Instead, the semi-trailer doors remain closed until a secure unloading environment is established.

8. Protect the trailer. Use vehicle restraints to guard against trailer theft. Vehicle restraints, also referred to as trailer restraints, latch onto trailers to keep them from separating from the dock during loading/unloading. Some also provide a smooth transition between the trailer and warehouse floor. Yet the safety devices also prevent trailer hijacking - especially because they can be connected to building alarm systems. When connected, the facility's alarm system sounds when a trailer is released without authorization.

9. Choose the right seal and shelter enclosure. The primary role of dock seal and shelter enclosures is to protect the inside of a facility from the outside elements and guard against energy loss when a truck backs up against a dock. Technically advanced seals also provide protection against the potential for dock fires. It's important, however, that the specified seals and shelters also provide the maximum level of security required.

10. Ensure proper sequencing. Many dock systems use electronic controls to operate various dock components, including the dock leveler, vehicle restraint, dock door, and dock shelter. For security purposes, it's important to ensure the system is designed to properly sequence interlocked and interconnected components. A mishap in sequencing could lead to a damaged component, and, in turn, create a gap that serves as an unwanted entry point into a facility.

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