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Posted by Stephanie on January 9, 2023

Whether you manage a warehouse or a retail outlet, your facility should be outfitted with a loading dock that accommodates the loading and unloading of any items, equipment, or goods your business handles. Loading docks, however, can be dangerous. Nearly 25% of warehouse injuries take place on loading docks. There are many causes of these injuries, which include everything from falls to the truck separating from the dock.

There’s also a possibility that a forklift will back off of the loading dock and fall on the person operating in. These accidents can lead to severe injuries and death, which is why it’s essential that you implement proper safety measures on your loading dock and in your facility. The following offers a more comprehensive look at the importance of loading dock installation and safety in your warehouse.

What are Loading Docks?

Loading docks are important components in such facilities as grocery stores, plants, retail outlets, and warehouses. Nearly all facilities that handle materials of any kind will be equipped with a loading dock. Different pieces of equipment can make traffic near the loading dock more efficient.

During the installation process, you can focus on reducing the risks typically associated with a loading dock. If there have been numerous incidents on your facility’s loading dock in recent times, make sure that you improve dock functionality and employee safety.

How do Loading Docks Work?

Loading docks are areas where goods and vehicles are loaded and unloaded. These docks are usually installed along the exterior of a building but are flush with the building envelope. They can also be fully enclosed. These docks are considered part of the facility’s utility or service infrastructure, which means that they will provide employees with easy access to storage rooms, freight elevators, and staging areas.

OSHA Loading Dock Design and Safety Requirements

Eve though loading docks have the potential to save your business money, there are also numerous safety risks that can cost your business a considerable sum of money if not taken into account. Implementing dock safety practices should help your company maintain strong financials.

Along with direct costs like medical expenses and claims administration fees, indirect liabilities can also result from damaged equipment, process interruptions, lost production, litigation, and replacement labor. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has put these design and safety requirements in place to make sure that any workers who use the loading dock are kept safe at all times.

Apron Space

The area that leads up to the bay door is referred to as the dock’s apron space. It’s needed to allow trucks to properly maneuver into the correct position at the dock opening. If you want to have your dock extended with an apron space, make sure that you identify your current and estimated future freight to determine if this addition is viable.

Consider the materials that need to be used, the traffic flow, and the total vehicle lengths that are received. If you expect to use asphalt as the surface material in this space, make sure that a concrete landing strip is poured, which will keep depressions at bay during extreme heat. Avoid using a gravel-covered dock apron.

dock doors

Truck Bays

Truck bays require numerous pieces of equipment to maintain operational efficiency. If your loading dock consists of multiple loading bays, keep in mind that door displacement is essential to keep bottleneck issues from taking place. The minimum displacement for these doors is usually 12′, which accommodates trucks that have a width of 10′ when taking mirrors into account. Higher displacements allow the loading process to be simpler, safer, and more economical.

mobile yard ramp

Dock Approach

The right grade for your loading dock is around a 1-2% incline, which ensures that the top portion of the trailer is kept away from the wall. Any channeling water runoff will also be pushed away from your facility. If you’re using an inclining or declining dock approach, careful planning is required.

Declining docks can move the top portion of the trailer closer to the wall, which can lead to your equipment and facility being damaged. Inclined approaches have a similar issue because of the ICC bar getting closer to the facility wall below the bumpers. In the event that the decline or incline is too severe, toppling can occur during the loading/unloading process.

Dock Types

There are numerous dock types to consider for your facility, which include everything from a cantilever design to a flush loading dock design.

The cantilever loading dock design uses a foundation wall that pushes past the outer wall. This design ensures that the building wall isn’t damaged if a dock bumper fails.

The enclosed loading dock design is regularly used in facilities that expect fleets of box trucks to arrive and depart on a regular basis. This design enhances comfort and efficiency. It can also double as a space for overhead cranes. This is the costliest dock design because of the need for more maintenance and a higher initial investment. The main issue with this design is the requirement for extensive ventilation.

The flush loading dock design is the most common one that’s used in modern warehouses. This dock has the same foundation as the building’s wall. If the building wall goes past the foundation as a result of a metal finishing material being used, you’ll need to consider dock bumper projection. Bumpers must always be at least 4.5″ away from the wall.

The open loading dock design is mainly used by the USPS because of the inclusion of an overhead canopy that covers the dock. These docks are unable to be cooled or heated, which makes it difficult to provide protection for employees, materials, and packages.

The saw tooth loading dock design is most effective when apron space must be kept to a minimum.

Truck Types

Trucks are available in many different lengths and heights. When you’re designing a loading dock for your warehouse or facility, you should obtain a comprehensive list of trucks that are expected to be serviced at the dock. Here are the standard truck bed heights for each type of truck:

  • Double axle semi – 45-55″
  • Container – 55-62″
  • City delivery – 45-48″
  • Flatbeds – 47-62″
  • High cube van – 35-43″
  • Furniture van – 23-36″
  • Panel truck – 19-25″
  • Refrigerated truck – 50-60″
  • Stake truck – 42-48″
  • Step van – 19-30″
  • Straight semi – 48-52″
semi truck

Dock Height

The dock should have the right height to accommodate smooth product transfer. Several factors must be considered to identify the proper height, which include:

  • Maximum grade capability of material handling equipment
  • Service range of trucks
  • Dock board and lever length

Loading dock heights typically range from 48-52″. However, your loading dock could have special qualifications that place the height below or above this level.

Door Size

You’ll need to select the correct door height and width for smooth transition of pallets and products to the loading dock. If the loading dock doors are the incorrect size, additional labor may need to be spent to load and unload the trucks, which hurts overall efficiency. Consider the maximum truck width when selecting a loading dock width. In most cases, the ideal door width is 9′. As for the loading door height, most loading docks come with 8-10′ doors.

Dock Bumper Arrangements

loading dock door size

A considerable amount of dock protection is provided when you use a combination of horizontal and vertical bumpers. These bumpers offer protection for tractor trailers and the facility itself. For instance, a bay door at 8′ wide can be best protected by bumpers with a 24″ height as well as an additional 10″ bumper around the center. If you have a refrigerated dock, the bumpers you use should be extra long. Make sure that you:

  • Use numerous bumpers for maximum protection
  • Bumpers are maintenance free when properly installed
  • Every bumper has customizable widths
  • Verify trucks received at your facility before designing a loading dock

Bumpers can come in heights that range from 6-12″. However, pads can be stacked on top of one another to obtain bumpers at heights of 20-36″. Select bumper heights that will accommodate the traffic you expect your facility to receive. For instance, 10″ bumpers are mainly used in docks where the trucks have equal heights.

Bumper Installation

When installing bumpers, do so at around 1-2″ below dock level. The sleeve anchors or lag bolts you use should be 3/4″ or 5.8″. Use some J bolts that have a minimum length of around 8″. If your facility is equipped with an open dock that doesn’t have predetermined docking positions, several different bumper placements and sizes can be used. When trucks are coming in at an angle, overlapping angles or a continuous bumper should be used to avoid the trailer bumping into the wall.

If you have refrigerated doors, these doors usually require a one-piece construction bumper to obtain a full seal around the dock and truck. The same is true of doors that are being sealed to maintain specific temperatures.

When considering portable dock plates, you can use these plates by centering your 36″ bumper below the opening, which allows for the plate to be easily inserted once the truck is docked. Make sure that there’s enough space for the plate legs.

Loading Dock Safety Concerns

There are several loading dock safety concerns that can be mitigated with the right equipment and safety procedures. The most common problems occur because of poorly designed components that don’t take future dock uses or the evolution of the production processes into account. The safety concerns you should be on the lookout for include:

  • Badly planned approaches
  • Gravel approaches
  • Small doorways
  • Improper bumper projections
  • Excessive slopes
  • Docks that are far too low for over-the-road trailers
  • Trailer creep
  • Vehicle separation from loading dock

Trailer creep occurs because of vertical and lateral forces that build up whenever a forklift truck exits and enters a trailer. Eventually, the trailer could move away from the loading dock, which leads to separation from the leveler. This issue can be prevented with a vehicle restraint system.

Why Choose QMH?

Our licensed contractors at QMH have the industry experience required to provide clients with warehouse solutions that improve efficiency and solve any problems that arise. If you have questions about loading dock ramps and how to design one for your facility, we can give you the answers you seek. Call QMH today to learn more.

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With over 32 years of experience in material handling, QMH is committed to providing end-to-end solutions for companies with distribution, logistic and warehousing needs. From permit approval management to full-service execution from the ground up, QMH delivers unique solutions providing distinct value in record time.