Dock Safety: Where There's A Wheel, There's A Way

The loading dock is considered the most dangerous part of warehouse operations—each year, numerous injuries and fatalities occur when lift trucks accidently drive off the dock or fall between the dock and the trailer.

While there are solutions to this problem—such as ICC bar or RIG (rear impact guard) type of truck restraints—there are drawbacks. Mechanical and hydraulic RIG bar restraints are comprised of many moving parts that are often damaged, requiring frequent repair. And ICC or RIG bars can also be damaged, rusted or in some cases, even non-existent.

GMR Safety Inc. has developed a simple, innovative product that addresses these issues. The company’s Power Chock vehicle restraints are wheel-based, so they don’t involve the ICC or RIG bars. By locking the trailers wheels, the Power Chock prevents early departure and trailer creep—the two leading causes of dock-related accidents.

“The Power Chock uses simple physics to restrain the vehicle by its strongest part—the wheel. It simplifies dock safety because it works on every vehicle, at every dock—where there’s a wheel, there’s a way,” says Gaetan Jette, GMR’s president. Jette co-founded the Quebec-based company in 1995 to facilitate a safe environment at the loading dock.

“At that time, the most common type of restraint on the market was the ICC bar and it could not guarantee 100 percent safety and that’s what our customers were really looking for,” says Jette. “One vehicle in four has a damaged or missing ICC bar, but every trailer that’s pulling into a loading dock has a wheel.”

Simple In Design

The Power Chock is comprised of an 18-inch high-tensile steel chock that is mounted to the end of an articulated, counter-balanced arm. The chock is placed in front of the vehicle’s rear wheels and locks onto a galvanized ground plate. Depending upon the needs of the warehouse, the restraining power of the Power Chock can be coupled with a communication system, sensors, lights and interlocks.

One of GMR’s first customers was Molson-Coors Brewery, Toronto, which has been using the Power Chock since 1997. “We had issues with trailers pulling away from the docks when they should not have been and we weren’t using any restraining devices,” says Steve Ropp, distribution manager, Molson-Coors. “We didn’t want to use the ICC bar restraint and we looked at what GMR was doing and liked their approach.”

Ropp says the truck drivers find it’s easier to put the Power Chock in place instead of the traditional little rubber chock. ”Once the Power Chock is in place, it’s sequenced automatically with the lights so they know the status of the trailer—whether it can be pulled out or not,” says Ropp. “The forklift drivers also know by the light sequencing when the chock is in place, so there’s no way the trailer can pull away from the dock while they’re loading it—it gives them a sense of safety.”

Another customer, Southern Wine & Spirits of Arizona, Tempe, AZ, has been using the Power Chocks for two years. “When we built this facility, we were trying to figure out what type of vehicle restraint we were going to use,” says Joel Benavides, warehouse manager, Southern Wine & Spirits. “Many of our customers were using a hook restraint and often our bumper was too low or two high and there were several instances where we had to get a tow truck out to free our vehicle from the restraints. So we didn’t want that. While we had the safety of our employees in mind, we didn’t want the frustration, the damage and the extra costs involved with a regular hook restraint.”

One of Southern Wine’s corporate managers pointed Benavides in the direction of GMR. ”We were really concerned when we first saw the Power Chock because it is just a tire chock with an arm. But we tested it and there’s not one thing I don’t like about it. We’ve not had one single issue with it—the chock has been very functional. Not one time have we had an instance where we’ve had a broken piece of equipment.”

That’s because of the simplicity of its design, according to Jette. “We’ve designed a system that will not break because it has minimal moving parts as opposed to a lot of other types of restraint devices—when they’re engineered with a lot of moving parts, it ends up breaking. We designed it not to break and to be able to withstand constant abuse.”

Molson has actually replaced some of its hydraulic dock locks with the Power Chock. “The hydraulic dock locks have become so expensive to maintain that we just go ahead and replace them with Power Chocks,” says Ropp.

More importantly, however, neither facility has had an accident since installing using the devices. GMR provides basic training for the employees, but Jette says the process is so simple that it’s self explanatory. “Our customers have told us their employees feel safer since they’ve installed the equipment,” he says.

“The best reason to buy them is for safety and we haven’t had an incident on the dock since we installed the Power Chocks,” agrees Ropp.
Plus, the device is easy to operate. “When the driver backs into the door, he’ll step out of his truck, walk back and grab the chock and place it in front of his tire. It’s that simple,” says Benavides. “The chock is spring-loaded so it’s not too heavy for any individual to handle—and it’s not causing damage to anyone’s truck.”

Southern Wine has 17 Power Chocks in use, and Molson has about 40 at its Toronto facility and more than 70 at its Montreal location. Molson, which has some units that are 14 years old, is currently upgrading its Power Chock system in some of its locations, as its needs have changed.

“Every customer that we service is different, with different needs and requirements,” says Jette. “We go in and figure out the best solutions for each facility. We need to adapt to their operation and propose a solution that will fit within the company culture.”

The Power Chock vehicle restraint system line consists of three products: System 1, System 3 and System 5. Each system provides more bells and whistles—depending upon the users needs.

Reaping The Benefits

The advantages of the Power Chock, according to Jette, include:

  • High level of safety—simpler, reliable operations;
  • Universal compatibility—fits 100 percent of vehicles. Not dependent on the UCC bar;
  • Greater restraining force—restrains the wheel instead of the UCC bar;
  • Offers industry’s lowest total cost of ownership;
  • User-friendly—quickly and easily set by the driver in less than 30 seconds;
  • Maximizes productivity—designed to minimize maintenance costs and downtime;
  • Environmentally friendly—does not use toxic fluids, consumes minimal energy;
  • Not affected by extreme weather conditions—first developed in Canada to endure extreme winter conditions.

“During the development stage, we realized that traditional hook restraints and other wheel-based restraint systems made it difficult for snowplow operators to adequately clear loading bays. In speaking with customers we found they needed a product that had high restraining capacity and did not interfere with snow removal equipment. The Power Chock meets both these criteria,” says Jette.

The Power Chock has been designed so that all of its components are able to withstand extreme cold and heavy snowfalls. When not in use, the chock rests 12” above ground. It is installed to the side of the loading dock door so snow is easily cleared away from the building’s foundation wall and the entire loading bay. This makes the area safer for dock workers and truck drivers alike.

One ground plate model accommodates all snow removal methods; plowing operations require the all-direction ground plate model. A thawing agent may be applied to the ground plate to remove any remaining ice or snow providing maximum restraint even during the winter months.

Molson is also using GMR’s Clear to Go SB-Safety Barrier, a barrier which helps to prevent damage to the loading dock door and loading dock drop-offs. Damage can occur if there isn’t a safety barrier that protects the dock door when it’s closed. Then there is the hazard of forklifts falling off the loading dock when the doors are open. Damage to expensive material handling equipment and employee injuries are often the result.

“Often the dock door damage happens when a company does staging and a lift truck operator doesn’t see an empty skid or pallet and pushes it through the door,” says Jette. “For many companies, this is a recurring problem, and they’re seeing two or three dock doors hit each week.”

The Clear to Go system is comprised of a barrier whose pivot is designed to sustain impact. In the case of an accidental maneuver, the barrier—posted in front of the dock door—is struck before the door can be hit. Upon impact, the barrier separates from the pivot and an audible alarm is trigger, advising employees of the impending risk. Once separated, the barrier can be set back into place in a few seconds.

The Clear to Go system is designed not to break. “The unit’s arm disassembles, because it’s held with a patented magnetic joint—you can hit it many times without breaking it,” says Jette.

GMR has customers throughout Canada and the U.S., and is expanding to Europe. Jette says GMR works with each customer on a one-to-one basis. “We look at their objectives and go through our portfolio of products and figure out what will fit best their operations and their budget. We take a lot of things into account, such as their traffic, the types of drivers they have (in-house vs. outside carriers) and also the merchandise they move. We like to interface our equipment with other existing equipment to provide 100 percent safety.”

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