Categories: Safety, Transportation

Who Is Responsible for Worker Injuries at Loading Docks?

TASA ID: 625

Whenever people and trucks are in close proximity, the area becomes very hazardous. In most cases, but not all, those that are doing the loading or unloading, as well as pedestrians, can be the losers. Generally, loading and/or unloading involves a great deal of people, goods and machinery, often on a raised platform or loading dock.   There are a number of standards and regulations designed to limit the number of hazards workers are exposed to on loading docks.  All too often, the people involved, be it the truck driver, the loading dock operator, the material-handling workers, or others, either are not aware of the standards and regulations that will limit the possibility of anyone getting hurt, they ignore them, or they go unenforced.

The driver, in most cases, has the initial responsibility of getting the truck to the loading dock without incident, but he/she can do that only if the facility operator has provided a truck access system to assist the driver in limiting the possibility of an accident. What those systems are will vary depending on how the facility is designed and maintained. The driver can do a better job of avoiding accidents at loading and/or unloading facilities if the facility operator provides sufficient access for the trucks to maneuver so they can back into the loading docks or platform. It is helpful if  lines are painted on a paved loading dock apron.  The driver can follow the lines in his mirrors so the back of his truck lines up properly with the platform or loading dock. A system must be implemented by the facility operator to assure that the truck cannot be inadvertently moved without notice to the dock workers.  This can take the form of a dock lock, which hooks the truck's underride protection bar (also known as the ICC bar) to the building so the truck cannot be moved until it is released.  A system of red and green lights is often used to indicate to the driver when it is safe to move his truck.  Like traffic lights, when the light is green, the truck is safe to move.  When the light is red, it cannot be moved. These lights, as well as dock locks, are controlled from within the building by loading dock workers/supervisors.  

If these systems are not available, some facilities establish a procedure that the loading dock door must remain closed when the truck is being started or running. This system must be strictly enforced.  This procedure often requires the driver to shutdown the truck when it is at the loading dock and give the keys to a dock worker or supervisor.  That way, the truck cannot be started when there is the possibility of a dock worker having access to the cargo area of the truck. Some facilities take this procedure a step further and place a weighted base with a hazard flag attached against the front bumper of the truck. The flag is positioned high enough for the driver to see it through the windshield.  Drivers are not permitted to move these flags.  To be effective, the procedure must mandate that only authorized facility personnel may move them. Some facilities require dock workers to position wheel chocks in front of the truck's rear wheels so the truck cannot be moved until the wheel chocks have been removed.  No matter what system is used, dock workers must be aware when the truck driver intends to move the truck and, at a minimum, action must be taken to close the dock door or place a barricade in front of the loading dock door to prevent anyone from entering the truck.

Some foolproof system must be implemented to protect loading dock personnel from entering the cargo area of a vehicle any time the potential exists for it to be moved.  Whether they enter the cargo vehicle on foot, with material handling equipment, or a forklift, they are subject to devastating injury should the vehicle be moved while they are entering it, leaving it, or working in it. 

Pedestrians should not be allowed to go anywhere trucks may be operating.  All pedestrian walkways should be clearly identified, marked, and restricted accordingly to avoid the possibility of trucks hitting pedestrians.  When trucks back up, for the most part, drivers are blind to what might be behind them.  Usually, loading and unloading facilities are designed so that trucks approach with the platforms on the left.  This allows drivers to see if the area they will be backing into is clear of hazards.  When drivers maneuver cargo vehicles towards the left while backing into the platform, some level of visibility temporarily remains.  Should pedestrians move into that area once mirrors are providing the only rear visibility, drivers can see only a limited area on both sides of the cargo vehicle and nothing directly behind it.  It does not matter whether the pedestrians are other truck drivers or personnel trying to enter the building.  Their lives are in jeopardy if they are permitted to walk freely into areas where trucks operate.  Walking areas where trucks also operate should be fenced off to prevent pedestrians from walking in the path of a moving truck.

Loading docks and areas where trucks operate are commonly a hubbub of activity.  With the right systems, policies, procedures, and enforcement in place, they can safely function.

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal, medical, or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of the author, who will be contacted by TASA.

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