Loading Dock Safety Guide For Managers

Posted 27.04.22 by:

Did you know that the loading dock is one of the most dangerous areas in the workplace? In fact, it’s responsible for more than 25% of all industrial accidents. That’s why it’s essential to ensure that everyone who works in or visits the loading dock understands and follows the safety regulations.

This article will review the safety regulations, hazards, and hazard prevention methodologies for loading dock areas within the workplace. We’ll also include tips for managers who oversee said areas. So please read on to learn more about keeping your loading dock team safe!

Table of Contents

Dock Safety 101

Typical loading dock areas consist of a minimum of two primary hazards: loading docks and overhead doors. Typical buildings have both dock level and drive-in level overhead doors, which can dramatically complicate the concept of facility safety.

Understanding the potential accidents that can occur at a loading dock is crucial. Let’s start with the dock itself. Identifying the hazards using a risk assessment form is the first step to risk prevention.

Loading Docks And The Hazards They Present

Loading docks are large, heavy steel contraptions that rise and fall to allow forklifts and other equipment to enter or depart transport trailers. You know how transports are raised off the ground – well, docks act as a steel ramp from the back of those transport trucks/trailers into buildings and warehouses.

The apparent first hazard you need to train your team to mitigate is a fall potential. Loading docks are usually around four feet off the ground. When the ground is a cement pad or even softer asphalt for lower-weight trucks, four feet is enough to cause severe or even life-threatening injury to a team member who wanders unaware of the dock’s edge.

The next severe hazard is crushing. Loading docks themselves weigh quite a bit – some over two or more tons. If a team member decides to clean under a dock and use a poorly maintained dock stand – that weight can come crashing down upon them.

A similar scenario occurs if a forklift bumps the raised loading dock while a worker is cleaning underneath. If your facility is in the pharmaceutical or medical industry, you know the importance of maintaining clean facilities. However, a slight miscalculation in safety around a loading dock and a team member could meet their early and untimely end.

Another severe and often overlooked hazard around the loading dock resides just outside the dock. It occurs when a truck is backing up. As you can understand, the view directly behind a reversing transport is not optimal. If a team member is outside standing at a loading dock when a trailer is backing in, a crush hazard situation can escalate quickly.

A less life-threatening hazard around the loading dock relates to the feet of your team members. When raising and lowering an improperly guarded dock, team members may quickly lose part of their foot if it extends under the lowering dock plate.

As you can see, several severe hazards require identification and immediate action around the loading dock. Safety is paramount, and training is essential. Moreover, it is also a function of the safe business to establish a baseline of the minimum standards and regulations required around the loading dock area.

OSHA Regulations For Unloading Trucks

The OSHA is the United States regulatory body that oversees and regulates business and organization compliance regarding the loading and unloading of trucks.

Several regulations stipulated by the OSHA correspond to the loading dock and area.

  • 1910.178, Powered industrial trucks
  • 1910.305, Wiring methods, components, and equipment for general use
  • 1910.157, Portable fire extinguishers
  • 1910.132, General requirements (Personal protective equipment)
  • 1910.23, Guarding floor and wall openings and holes
  • 1910.303, General (Electrical)
  • 1910.147, The control of hazardous energy (lockout/Tagout)
  • 1910.215, Abrasive wheel machinery

Source: OSHA

What About Dock Locks?

One of the hidden hazards of the elevated loading dock is the risk of the forklift falling off the dock. You wouldn’t think this would happen if there were a trailer in place, but sometimes the force of the forklift driving in or out of a trailer can cause the trailer to roll. Similarly, a truck driver might inadvertently pull away from the dock, thinking the trailer loading or unloading is complete.

Enter the dock lock, or in its simplest form – the wheel chock. But are dock locks required by OSHA? Technically, you don’t need heavy-duty mechanical or other powered dock locks. However, in many regions, it is necessary to use a minimum of wheel chocks to attempt to prevent a trailer from inadvertently leaving the docking area prematurely.

If your facility uses a mechanical or powered dock locking mechanism, these pose new hazards to staff. So the best practice is to leave this equipment to your maintenance professionals (or outside professionals who specialize in said equipment).

Standard Loading Dock Height And Fall Hazards

Standard Loading Dock Height And Fall Hazards information at 1streporting.com

With docks residing at elevated positions to accommodate freight, it isn’t a stretch to see that we need to control the fall hazard and other hazards. However, do loading docks need fall protection?

The standard dock typically resides at the height of between 48 and 52 inches from the ground outside. The OSHA stipulates that any height at or above 48 inches requires fall protection in work settings.

Therefore, the loading dock doors must remain closed while no trucks are backed up to the door. Otherwise, your staff will require the use of PPE and safe (engineered) tie-off points.

The same rules for height apply in most other areas, including Canada and other countries, not just the United States. So, it’s essential that your team members have training on the dangers of loading docks and falls to maintain safety at your facility.

Do loading docks require guardrails? Technically loading docks do not need guardrails. However, equipment types must include guardrails in some loading dock areas.

The use of stationary horizontal lift platforms, commonly called scissor lift plates, does, in fact, require guard rails. And depending on the working height, PPE might be a requirement. Standard dock plates do not require guard rails.

Doors: The Hazard That Comes Crashing Down

Every loading dock has at least one loading door. It is the main entrance and exit for vehicles transporting goods to and from the loading dock. It is also an essential access point for employees working in the loading dock area. As such, loading dock managers must take steps to ensure the safety of everyone who uses this area. One of the most significant hazards in a loading dock is the loading door itself.

Loading doors often follow a vertical movement path, meaning they move over your head. Hence, the term overhead door (not to be confused with the door manufacturer of the same term).

Given the weight of most overhead doors for loading docks, and the fact that they travel up, potentially overhead of people, the hazards compound quickly. The danger? It’s when the door comes crashing down.

Regular maintenance and inspection of loading dock doors are essential to the safe operation of your loading dock area.

Most modern overhead doors utilize a counterbalance system. These counterbalance systems often use torsion spring assemblies. These counterbalancing assemblies find use due to the low cost and low amount of room required for their installation compared with other counterbalance systems.

The trouble with the modern torsion spring assembly is that the springs can break. And when they do… Let’s ask this question: Have you heard of a guillotine?

Imagine a door weighing in at several hundred pounds coming down in freefall from ten feet off the ground – onto a worker’s head. Let’s say it’s enough to give someone a severely, even life-threatening bad day.

Most managers take these hidden dangers for granted until someone is hurt. But, with some simple precautions and short training, you and your team can work safely and efficiently around loading docks, doors, and truck lock equipment.

Implementable Solutions For Loading Docks Safety

Implementable Solutions For Loading Docks Safety with 1streporting.com

Loading dock safety is a vital part of any workplace. Without loading dock safety, employees are at risk of severe, even life-threatening injury. 

Loading dock safety includes ensuring that the loading dock area is clean and clear of hazards and ensuring that all safety equipment is in working order. However, it’s the training that makes all the difference.

Trailer Dock And Release Training

The best thing you can do in your facility is to learn trailer dock and release. Utilizing a system for safety regarding docks, forklifts, and tractor-trailers is essential to all those working in or around the equipment.

Some of the benefits of using trailer dock and release methodologies for safety include:

  • Improved communication between forklift operators and tractor-trailer drivers;
  • Reduced chances of injury due to miscommunication or misunderstanding;
  • Standardized procedures for loading and unloading goods;
  • Increased safety for employees working in loading dock areas.

You can easily set up a procedural template for your team for each receiving or shipping load. An excellent tool for this sort of thing is a mobile form automation app like 1st Reporting offers on The Apple App Store and Google Play.

Apps like 1st help manage procedures and training, making them easier to manage and more effectively controlled. The app works wonders for incident reporting, safety audits, and even vehicle condition report writing.

Frequently Asked Questions At The Dock

As we have reviewed some of the significant hazards found around loading docks, let’s see what some commonly asked questions are regarding loading dock safety.

What is the most common cause of injury at a loading dock?

The most common cause of injury around the loading dock is slip and fall accidents. Typically, team member injury reports must remain on hand if you have loading docks at your facility because sooner or later, someone is likely to slip and fall.

Loading docks consist of a checker plate steel top and a rather hefty steel beam at the rear of the dock that ties the dock plate to the building floor. This beam is usually somewhat smooth. A smooth steel beam can pose a slip hazard when wet, as can a wet steel plate. The threat is even more pronounced should the steel have oil spilled on it.

Given the exterior facing nature of loading docks, understanding the risk of a wet dock plate is crucial. Most under-door weather seals do a poor job with a checker plate surface of a dock underneath. In other words, a slippery wet dock is inevitable. This fact is one of the contributing factors to the slip and fall hazard prevalence of a steel dock plate.

What percentage of industrial accidents occur at the loading docks?

Approximately 25% of all industrial accidents occur at or near the loading docks. It is a melting pot of equipment types and often a mixture of team members and outside company drivers. When you combine multiple hazards, heavy equipment, and the potential for miscommunication between drivers of trucks and forklifts, it’s no wonder that so many accidents happen near the loading dock.

The solution? Implement a robust training protocol for all team members. Impose in-house rules where all staff look out for each other around the loading dock and double up on safety.

Follow a strict method for backing in trucks, locking them in place, opening doors, and raising dock plates. And never neglect to have appropriately trained professionals inspect equipment to maintain its safe operation for your team members.


Loading dock safety is essential for preventing injuries in the workplace. Loading docks can be dangerous because of the many hazards, such as slips and falls. Managers can reduce the risk of injuries by implementing training and safety procedures and ensuring that employees are aware of the dangers.

Utilizing tools like mobile form automation and inspection templates, you can help control the hazards at your facility. Furthermore, completing regular inspections, so equipment operates following safety requirements is essential to your facility’s safe operation.

To learn more about how the 1st Reporting app can help you control hazards at your facility, read more about our mobile form automation solutions.

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