Get A Grip On Slippery Loading Dock Floors

How to prevent dock accidents through the use of proper dock doors, levelers and dock seals.

In school we were taught, “neatness counts.” Those wise words from your teacher apply significantly when it comes to the danger of slips and falls on the food loading dock.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, slips and falls cause 15 percent of all lost-time accidents, with a disproportionately high number of these injuries occurring at the loading dock. The 2007 Liberty Mutual Safety Index revealed that these kinds of accidents cost the industry $6.6 billion annually. The study found that while the incidence of other injuries was dropping, the number of injuries caused by slips and falls was growing.

The problem stems from the accumulation of moisture on the dock floor, which mixes with debris and oil to create a dangerously slick surface. Since most docks have a doorway averaging 8 ft x 10 ft, moisture from rain and snow has ample opportunity to find its way inside.

There are many strategies used to deal with moisture around the dock, ranging from warning signs to guard rails to slip-resistant overshoes, but perhaps the most important way to prevent slips and falls at the dock is attentive housekeeping. OSHA has rules about this, of course. There are two different regulations requiring that workplaces practice good housekeeping. The focus is on keeping areas clean and neat and keeping aisles clear.

When it comes to combating slips and falls, “housekeeping” implies keeping the dock floor clean and dry. But all this diligence can be thwarted if the dock is not effectively sealed off from the outside elements.

Smart facilities practice 5S and other strategies, applying discipline to keep the dock floors clean and swooping in on spills and slicks when they happen, but there are factors unique to the dock. For example, on many docks, brisk traffic prevents clean-up crews from promptly attending to wet floors. If these and other factors are minimized or eliminated, it makes this job easier and the area safer.

The key is preventing weather-generated moisture from entering the dock in the first place, and proper equipment application is vital.

Dock doors – is the doorway truly covered? Operate a fast-moving forklift within the confined space of the dock, and damage to equipment is bound to happen, especially when it comes to dock doors. Collisions can damage doors outright, or the hammering can compromise their ability to seal the doorway. The resulting misalignment between the door panels and the doorframe creates gaps that enable the invasion of moisture.

Common dock doors with garage-style roller guides and light gauge metal tracks cannot stand up to the beating. Even closely supervised docks can be the scene of accidents as product accumulates near the doorway. Forklifts back into the door or ram staged pallets into door panels. In some situations, replacing lower panels with “flex panels” will ensure the doorway is covered. Other times, management finds damage occurring at all points of the door and decides it is best to install a fully impactable dock door.

Impactable dock doors are built to stand up to both the occasional bump and the most severe collision. Rather than becoming damaged from the force of a major impact, the door panels release and can easily be set back in place. Fully impactable models have the weatherseal attached to the door panel rather than the doorframe. The door and weatherseal can roll up out of harm’s way, allowing the door to maintain a consistent seal.

Door guide or track design is another important element of sealing effectiveness. When traditional light gauge metal tracks are hit by forklifts, they get deformed and can capture the guide rollers. This makes the door difficult to operate and tempts dock workers to leave the doorway open between truck loads to avoid back strain. Impactable doors that feature rolling, retractable plungersriding along V-groove tracks ensure the door will operate easily, regardless of the impacts suffered by the guides.

Some door models have guide tracks made of high-impact plastic. These doors offer superior durability over standard doors, but can also prevent the transmission of heat from the outside, preventing chilled air from condensing and creating moisture on the floor.

Even when the doorway is completely covered, moisture can still form on the dock floor through condensation, especially in cold-storage warehouses. It’s important that the dock door match the thickness of the dock walls. Utilizing a thicker, insulated impactable dock door is the ideal defense in cold storage applications.

Levelers – the welcome mat to infiltration. Standard pit-mounted dock levelers provide safe trailer access for forklifts, but the pit cut into the concrete dock floor includes small gaps that act as a passageway for the weather. This presents a challenge because the loading dock, even with a closed door, is often not properly sealed off.

There is a solution for this energy loss, however. Both new and existing pit-style dock levelers can be outfitted with an advanced weatherseal system, a combination of durable open-cell foam and heavy-duty vinyl. This effectively fills the gaps around the sides and rear of the dock leveler and provides a superior seal around the perimeter.

As an alternative to pit-style dock levelers, vertical-storing powered levelers and modular dock bridges store upright when not in use. This design allows the dock door to close tightly against the concrete floor to seal in the energy and lock out the elements. Vertical levelers and dock bridges provide the added benefit of a full perimeter seal while also acting as a steel barrier when stored, protecting overhead doors from forklift assaults.

Door seals – is the parked truck bringing in more than product? Even when a forklift is working as fast as it can to load or unload, a trailer can be parked at the dock for hours at a time. Docks depend on seals and shelters to close off the gap between the dock wall and the trailer and prevent the invasion of outdoor moisture. As with damaged dock doors, a poorly specified seal or shelter also permits considerable infiltration.

Dock seals have fabric-covered foam pads that compress when the trailer backs into them, providing a tight seal around the sides of the trailer and closing the gaps between the trailer’s door hinges. Dock shelters consist of fabric attached to side and head frames to create a canopy around the perimeter of the trailer, allowing full, unimpeded access to the interior.

Galvanized steel backing offers many advantages over wood backing that is used on some models of dock seals and shelters. Wood backing has a solid mass (1-1/2" thick) that does not yield when the seal is compressed, often resulting in damage to the building. With steel backing, the solid mass is replaced with compressible foam on a steel frame. Steel backing also offers superior durability because it does not rot, split, crack, or warp. It uses plated screws with load-spreading washers in the steel to provide a stronger, more durable hold on the fabric.

Because rain and snow can build up on the roof of a truck, moisture can also spill into the dock through the top of the doorway. Dock seals and shelters can be combined with rain-sealing systems to literally wipe off moisture from the roof of backing trailers to keep it out of the dock area. These rain-sealing systems attach to the top or header of the dock seal/shelter and are fitted with a special wiper pad that sweeps rain, snow, and condensation off the roof of the trailer.

Many docks use rubber wheel chocks in an attempt to hold trailers in place during loading and unloading, but rubber wheel chocks are no match for the forces exerted by forklifts driving in and out of trailers. This force can gradually cause a trailer to “walk” away from the dock, forming a doorway gap. A powered vehicle restraint ensures that the trailer is held snugly to the dock, with the back end of the trailer fully enveloped by the dock seal or shelter.

No matter the economic conditions, good warehouse employees are always hard to find. Close-to-the-bone operation means that no DC or processor can afford to lose a single person due to injury. By properly installing and maintaining the right dock equipment, facilities can reap the benefits of a moisture-free and safe facility, enabling them to consistently remain at the peak of productivity.

Brittingham is marketing communications manager of Carrollton, TX-based 4Front Engineered Solutions.