Safety failures and serious losses often begin with a very small thing – an annoying procedural task ignored for a bit too long, or the gradual erosion of a seemingly minor piece of equipment. At the loading dock – the heart of a company’s supply chain operations – these small mistakes and missteps can lead to truly devastating consequences. Serious injury, loss of life, terminations or severe operational disruptions are all possible when the loading dock is not safely and effectively maintained.
A safe, modern and high-functioning loading dock setup starts with investing in the right equipment. Choosing and placing the right industrial doors, levelers, shelters, seals, bumpers and safety equipment – even when it means spending more than you hoped – is half the battle when it comes to ensuring optimal safety and efficiency. But once your equipment is in place, it’s equally important to have a specific quarterly or monthly action plan for verifying the integrity and safety of all aspects of your dock. Here are the five items I’d include in my routine checklist:
Review and refresh your proactive maintenance strategy
Once the right loading dock equipment is in place, the next most important task is to ensure you have a comprehensive strategy in place for ongoing proactive maintenance. Your strategy, which should include practical recurring checklists like this one, will be your primary reference and cheat sheet for what to do, how to do it, and when. I recommend kicking off your routine loading dock evaluation process with a review – and if, needed, a refresh – of your broader strategy.
Assess the integrity of your dock seals
The seals around your loading dock doors are critical for environmental control. They help to keep inclement weather, pests and debris from entering your facility while your employees are loading or unloading trucks. And if your business requires the maintenance of cold chain, your dock seals also do the hard work of maintaining Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliant temperatures. Checking the integrity of your seals to ensure they are not allowing any breakthrough of air or contaminants is key.
Ensure your vehicle restraint systems are functioning
Today’s most effective and advanced vehicle restraint systems are integrated with electronic light systems that shine red or green depending on whether it’s safe for forklift operators to proceed. If your company is still relying on a more antiquated vehicle restraint system, such as wheel chocks, it’s time to reevaluate your investment and setup. An electronic system will be far more effective at preventing trucks from moving when employees are in an area where they might be stuck, and a quick visual evaluation of this system will help to ensure it’s working at optimal functionality.
Check the quality and position of your dock bumpers
Your dock bumpers, whether they’re laminated, molded or steel face, help to ensure that trucks and trailers connect smoothly with your loading docks. It’s important to verify on a regular basis that these bumpers are not damaged or eroded, and always correctly positioned to align and fit the grade of the truck wells and the size of the loading dock door. A breakdown of your bumpers may lead to a severe safety incident, premature wearing of seals and loss of productivity.
Talk to your employees about recent close calls
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ask your frontline employees about recent “close call” experiences that might have led to a safety incident. What occurred and why? Is the loading dock safety equipment working the way it should each and every time? Are the dock’s guard rails as sturdy as ever? Would a larger or more upgraded shelter be useful to protect from the elements? Having these conversations on a regular basis is critically important because no one understands the potential pitfalls and practical necessities better than the workers who work around the dock every day.
This checklist, when regularly employed by your facility manager or operations lead as part of a broader vision and strategy, will help to ensure that all the different components of your loading dock setup are functioning optimally and efficiently. And even more importantly, your operations and personnel will benefit from better safety numbers as a result. The bottom line? Better maintenance always leads to better safety.
Johnny Allen, Vice President of Construction Services at Miner, the loading dock and door division of OnPoint Group