Top 7 Loading and Unloading Best Practices
The loading and unloading of cargo is a dangerous process that can cause serious injury or even fatality to warehouse workers if it is not performed with care. Docks can often get congested, tight, and busy, and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Safety should always be the top priority for warehouse managers and employees.
So how can you maintain a high level of warehouse safety during loading and unloading? One way is, of course, to partner with a reliable, experienced, and dedicated team of professionals such as Redwood Logistics. Our team consists of experts in everything from the brokerage process right down to the implementation of technology such as our proprietary RedwoodConnect 2.0. Reach out to us today to schedule a consultation and let us show you how we can help you improve your warehouse operations.
We’re giving you 7 best practices you need to implement for optimal loading safety.
Common Loading/Unloading Hazards
- Truck drive-away (drivers leave before the load is completely on/off)
- Trailer “creep” (unrestrained trucks creep forward due to movement entering and exiting trailer)
- Falling cargo (heavy objects, wrongly distributed weight, not securely fastened, obstructed view)
- Water egress in dock area (spills, trips, falls, wet loads, incoming rain)
- Poor visibility
- Elevation (falls, trips, injuries)
These hazards are easily preventable by following some safety loading and unloading best practices.
Implement a Centralized Warehouse Management System
There are a number of advanced technologies on the market that ensure optimal safety, productivity, and efficiency for the warehouse. A warehouse management system (WMS) functions as the “brain,” connecting all of the tech solutions throughout the center. This includes everything from planning software to dock management systems and master control panels. These systems collect, track, and analyze data so employees have information about freight loading/unloading in real-time.
The tech has to work together through a management system to see the greatest efficacy. Blockchain tech can tell you which packages are coming in, where they are, and where they’re coming from. Freight dimensioning systems, integrated with the WMS, can quickly and efficiently create dimensions of the parcels and pallets using an image-capturing process. Planning solutions can tell you how to best load those pallets to maximize capacity and ensure safety. Dock management systems can identify inefficient practices while utilizing a network of cameras, sensors, and lights for a more streamlined dock. Infrared sensors can detect the arrival of new trucks and then activate the trailer restraint and dock levelers (discussed below). Centralizing these systems creates a safe and efficient supply chain from start to finish, including unloading and loading.
You’ll see that most of the best practices on this list are tech-related. That’s because today’s warehouse technologies are making the loading and unloading process significantly easier and safer. If you have even one or two technologies, or you’re considering implementing them, start with a well-connected warehouse management system to unite the data.
Here’s a little hack
Some warehouse management systems can help with layout and space planning. Machine learning systems can help you set up the safest and most effective warehouse layout, minimizing the amount of extra “movement” that employees have to do. The less movement there is, the safer the warehouse.
Link Restraints to the Master Control Panel
Restraints are a safety must-have. They’re an easy and economical way to avoid truck creep and drive-away, along with other hazardous freight movements. Restraints lock and secure a trailer’s rear impact guard once it’s backed into the dock, keeping it firmly in place during the loading/unloading process.
The traditional alternative to restraints are chocks, which are manually attached. This can cause injury during the attachment process, there is a high risk of error, and they don’t secure the trailer as strongly as restraints do. Today’s restraints are automatic, so there’s minimal risk of error or injury.
Modern restraints can also be linked to the master control panel. This centralized system prevents any unloading actions until the trailer is firmly locked in place, and it also refuses to let the driver leave until all the unloading has been approved. It can also link up to the system’s lights to signal the driver and loader of the process status to ensure continuous communication.
Mount Communication Lights
Lighting is critical to improving the visibility of the dock, load, and personnel. Connecting your lighting to a centralized communication system is a best practice that can dramatically improve the safety of your operations. We recommend implementing connected lights in the upper corners of the dock, so everyone can see them from all angles.
The lights can then visually communicate when a truck is coming in, when a trailer is locked in place, when it’s safe to open the door, when the unloading process is over, and when it’s safe for the driver to leave. Having the visual of the lights is a game-changer when it comes to keeping all dock employees and drivers on the same page at all times.
Install Barrier Gates
Barrier gates help prevent employees from falling or tripping off elevated ledges. In a dock area, a one-inch gap in elevation can be the difference between safety and severe injury. There are also a lot of hazard areas with heavy machinery, so gates can also help keep workers away from moving machinery or cargo.
You can get barrier gates that can be opened and closed, and some gates even have lights and can sync with the master control panel. This can help identify traffic in the loading area to ensure people aren’t stepping into an unsafe area.
Use Dock Levelers
A dock leveler helps bridge the gap that occurs between a trailer and a loading dock when they aren’t at the same height. This is especially important since the trailer can change heights during the loading/unloading process due to the addition or subtraction of weight from the cargo.
Dock levelers ensure there is a smooth and seamless transition while moving freight to and from the truck, without damage to the goods or workers. You want to use hydraulic levelers that work with just the push of a button, which is much safer than mechanical levelers operated by a pull chain. Mechanical ones require workers to bend down to pull it up, which can cause severe injuries and result in failure to work. Hydraulic levelers are quick, efficient, and safe.
Create a Regular Maintenance Routine
Maintenance makes the most critical difference when it comes to safety. Clutter and obstructions can cause slips, trips, falls, and injuries that can have a serious impact on worker safety. Maintenance once a month isn’t enough. You should have a daily plan that ensures the loading/unloading area and trucks are safe for workers.
Make sure there are no crates, wires, chains, bins, or cables where employees walk. Inspect equipment regularly for malfunctions. Create a checklist for supervisors and workers to follow before and after each unloading/loading process.
We anticipate that regular cleaning and upkeep will especially become a staple for all operations following COVID-19. It’s absolutely critical to keep the warehouse safe in order to keep workers safe. Plus, a clean and organized warehouse is a lot more productive and efficient than a cluttered one.
Safety starts and ends with your workforce. Human error is one of the primary causes of injury in the dock area. Ongoing training to reinforce good habits and deter bad ones is critical to keeping everyone safe. We recommend training in (at least):
- Ergonomic movements, to prevent chronic or acute injury
- Cargo securing during loading
- Safely removing secured cargo during unloading
- Using the warehouse management system
- Equipment and communication
- Safety protocols
Implementing warehouse automation can free up time for managers and employees to focus on training and safety while still meeting productivity standards.
Other best practices for loading and unloading
- Install weather-proofed dock seals and canopies. This prevents water from entering and creating slip hazards and/or freight damage. (Plus, this will enhance employee safety, comfort, and productivity.)
- Use telescopic conveyor belts to transport items from the warehouse to the trailer (and vice versa).
- Implement wheel guides, bumpers, and mirrors in the loading area to move trucks in and out more safely.
- Take driver’s keys once they’ve pulled in. Don’t give the keys back until the loading/unloading process is complete.
- Ensure the vehicle is braked and stabilized before beginning loading/unloading. Use automatic restraints.
- Take a look at your dock structure. Do you have traffic lights to control the flow of equipment and people? Is there a lot of clutter or cramping? How can you improve the dock layout for overall safety?
The loading and unloading process comes with hazards, but there are ways to minimize these risks and keep employees safe. Innovative technology advancements are the most effective way to ensure safety through communication and connectivity.
If you’re looking to implement safety and productivity tech in your warehouse, Redwood Logistics can help. Contact us for a free consultation about your warehouse to see how we can help improve your efficiency, safety, and engagement with loading/unloading and beyond.