GMR talks worker safety at the dock

There are thousands of lift truck accidents a year at the dock. Here are some of the ways to prevent them.

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Last week, I spoke to Jay Jette, the president of GMR Safety, a Canadian company that specializes in safety products for the dock. GMR Safety is best-known for the Power Chock System, a wheel restraint system designed to prevent early departure and trailer creep.

Truth be told, prior to talking to Jette, I would have associated early departure with a plane that takes off before its scheduled departure time and trailer creep with some guy lurking around a double-wide. All joking aside, dock safety is serious business. As Jette pointed out, there are about 6.2 million worker injuries each year, including an estimated 68,400 accidents related to forklifts each year; about 4,700 of those are the result of a forklift running off a loading dock. Some of those accidents are undoubtedly the result of the early departure of a trailer from a dock. That happens when a truck driver pulls out of the loading dock before the forklift driver is out of a trailer and off the dock plate. “Loading docks are one of the most crucial and most dangerous areas in your entire facility,” Jette said.

Jette described the most common methods to try to keep the truck and trailer in place at the dock.

One is to attach a hook to the rear impact guard (RIG) bar. The hook can hold a load between 20,000 and 35,000 pounds, Jette said.  The problem is that the RIG bars, also known as ICC bars, are really designed to prevent another vehicle from driving under the back of a trailer during an accident, not to restrain a trailer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires RIG bars to hold 11,240 pounds, roughly a third of the force required to keep a tractor trailer from pulling out from a loading dock. What’s more, the average life of a semi-trailer is 10 to 15 years. “If the RIG bar has been in place for 15 years, what kind of condition is it in?” Jeete asked. “Is it corroded, bent, or cracked?” And, while a dock worker could inspect a RIG bar before hooking on to it, the reality is that dock workers first become aware that a trailer has arrived after it has already backed up to the dock. At that point they can’t even see the RIG bar from the top of the dock.

Rubber trailer chocks are another commonly-used solution. They work, but only if the driver remembers to put them in place, they are properly installed, and are periodically inspected to see if the chock has moved. Jette argued that even with a chock in place, the force of a heavy forklift repeatedly entering a trailer can cause it to creep, or move away from the dock.

Wheel restraint systems that utilizes the wheels and axle to keep the trailer in place are the best way to safely keep a trailer properly positioned at the loading dock, Jette said. Many systems can be expensive, depending on utilization, have moving parts that can fail, and can be difficult to maintain in locations that get significant amounts of snowfall.

Now, it will come as no surprise that GMR Safety believes that it has a better mouse trap, a wheel restraint system that is economical, effectively keeps a trailer in place at the dock, has few moving parts to fail and allows for snow removal without damaging the system. 

While we can’t comment on who has the most effective trailer restraint system, given the number of accidents a year involving lift trucks, loading docks and trailers, Jette’s larger point is worth remembering. “Don’t use devices around your loading docks that create a false sense of safety,” he said. “Accidents on the loading dock can be very expensive. There are the direct costs of medical expenses, workers compensation costs, and OSHA fines. There may also be many indirect costs such as equipment damage, cargo loss, lost productivity, litigation and damaged customer relations. To prevent those serious injuries and fatalities, use a robust, time-proven wheel restraint system that can restraint any types of vehicle at every loading dock.”

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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Article Topics

Dock Equipment · GMR Safety · Lift Trucks · Safety · · All Topics
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