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Loading Dock Equipment
Warehouse facilities and operations are not inherently dangerous places or activities, but accidents do occasionally occur and they can be either serious or, in some cases, fatal. The most hazardous area of the entire operation is the loading dock, where mishaps involving lift trucks and other equipment happen with some frequency. New equipment is being developed all the time to make warehousing and particularly loading dock operations more safe. Business owners or managers who are on the verge of purchasing new equipment to replace old for loading dock functions, or are setting up business for the first time, should be particularly aware of new safety feature developments and take care in choosing the best, and the safest, tools available. Some of the types of equipment regularly used on loading docks, that can be optimized with safety in mind, includes dock levelers, truck restraints, and various signaling devices.

Dock levelers, for example, are rated for various weights and capacities. The function performed by dock levels is bridging the gap between docks and trailers. The levelers are designed to adjust for height differences between the dock and the trailer and the most common type is operated with a pull chain. It is important to be aware that dock levelers are rated differently and to choose ones that are appropriate for the heights and weights the conditions under which they will be used. In addition, these pieces of equipment do not last indefinitely and are subject to wear and tear. Thus, they need to be checked on a regular schedule and receive any necessary preventive maintenance.

Hydraulic dock levelers are also in use in many warehouses. These include an electric pump and a hydraulic cylinder that aid in engaging and disengaging the dock leveler itself. The fact that they are operated by remote switch, rather than a physical pull chain, makes them safer to use, particularly in situations where a high volume of work makes the loading dock busy and hazardous.

Newer dock levelers have built-in safety barriers that are designed to stop a lift truck if it begins to go over the edge of the dock. When the leveler is not hooked to a trailer, a steel barrier is raised and physically prevents the lift truck from moving in that direction.

In some loading situations, there is no raised dock available from which to load freight into the back of a tractor-trailer. That necessitates being able to safely reach the height of the trailer and move heavy objects back and forth. Elevating docks are used for that purpose. These have an electric pump and hydraulic lift cylinder that enables them to be raised to the height of the trailer they are servicing.

Truck restraints are another important factor in loading dock safety. Trailers can creep when a heavy lift truck enters them over a dock leveler, simply due to the forward movement, weight, and push of the lift truck. On other occasions, a driver who may think he is clear will begin to pull forward while the trailer is still being loaded. Wheel chocks help, but may not prevent some creep. For safety purposes, there are other, better methods available. Bar restraints are one method. These automatically engage the rear impact guard on a trailer when it is backed onto the dock. The restraint must be disengaged from a remote control panel, after the trailer is loaded or unloaded and before it can leave the dock. Another option is automatic wheel restraints which are engaged in front of the rear wheels of the trailer and prevent movement until disengaged.

It is also wise to invest in appropriate signaling devices to help keep dock workers safe on the job. Used with automatic truck restraint devices and dock levelers, signals may graphically indicate which dock to back into and tell the lift truck operator when everything is engaged and it is safe to enter the truck.

In any case, businesses should consider providing the very best safety equipment available in order to protect both their workers and their operations.
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