The Association of Loading
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Load off your mind

Continuing the series of articles from The Association of Loading and Elevating Equipment Manufacturers ( ALEM ), John Meale, managing director of member company Thorworld Industries Ltd explains how a commitment to safety in the loading and unloading area can provide firms with long-term peace of mind.

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The vehicle loading and unloading area is potentially one of the most hazardous areas in any company, warehouse or distribution centre, so it’s no surprise that an extensive range of safety equipment exists on the market to protect against accidents.

Yet despite there being no shortage of solutions, I continue to see examples of companies across a wide range of industries that are operating without a robust loading and unloading area safety strategy. Sometimes, they’ve discovered the limitations of their procedures the hard way, after somebody has already been injured. For others, their loading and unloading areas are – as the saying goes – “an accident waiting to happen.”

Aside from the legal and ethical ‘duty of care’ considerations an employer owes to its personnel, there are strong economic imperatives for investing in safety equipment. Some of the costs associated with an accident can be

I continue to see examples of companiesacross a wide range of industries that are operating without  a robust loading and unloading area safety strategy.

measured immediately in terms of damage and downtime, but longer- term implications – such as higher insurance premiums or the threat of legal action – aren’t always obvious.

So it’s worth restating the basics. As anyone who has ever worked in a loading/unloading environment will know, there is a height differential between ground, trailer and loading dock which must be successfully managed to avoid injury. The primary hazard exists even before a vehicle arrives at a loading/unloading area: for example, an employee can easily fall between the loading dock and the ground. Simple precautions, such as keeping loading dock doors closed when not in use, can make a huge difference.

As an example, when the loading dock door is open, and a trailer is pushed to the dock, the scope for accidents increases exponentially. Falls can still be reduced by using equipment with guardrails. Vehicle movement must be controlled and, where possible, neutralised entirely, in order to prevent personnel being trapped or crushed. Safeguards for this include the use of wheel or air hose locks, or a policy of removing drivers’ keys once trailers are in position.

As technology is developing, integrated electronic systems are becoming an increasingly popular means of co-ordinating safety procedures across multiple pieces of equipment. Typical examples might include sensors to prevent doors from opening when no vehicle is present; dock levellers which only operate when doors are open; wheel locks that can only be released once levellers are parked and doors are closed; as well as fully integrated control systems.

Nor is health and safety limited to dramatic one-off incidents. The potential exists for extreme operating temperatures to have long-term adverse effects on personnel – and potentially on products, if for example the warehouse is handling perishable goods. Items such as inflatable dock seals help to maintain a consistent, safe temperature. Similarly, dock bumpers prevent sustained damage to both vehicles and the building infrastructure, avoiding hidden long-term safety risks.

Investing in equipment is not in itself enough to guarantee a safe working I continue to see examples of companies across a wide range of industries that are operating without a robust loading and unloading area safety strategy environment. Numerous standards and directives applicable to good practice in installation and operation must be adhered to. And there’s no better safety device than knowledge; a vital aspect of health and safety is to ensure that employees receive appropriate training in their equipment to ensure they know what they are doing.

Before any of this takes place, the first thing to do is to identify potential hazards in your specific loading and unloading or warehouse area, and learn how to avoid them. Surprisingly few guides are available to help specifiers, architects and end users identify how to do this. That’s why a new publication by FEM (The European Materials Handling Federation), of which ALEM is a member, is so welcome. Titled Guidance On Safety On / Around A Vehicle Loading Area , the comprehensive guide is available online at loading-safety under ‘Free Technical Documents’ and will be periodically updated as standards and directives change, and as any new technologies and products are launched.

Similarly, a detailed conversation with a reputable and experienced ALEM member company about the availability and merits of different loading bay equipment, accessories and safety aids should also prove worthwhile in providing extra peace of mind.

With a little common sense, backed by expert guidance and smart investment in equipment and training, loading and unloading area safety can be improved to the point where accidents will be waiting a long time before they happen.