Loading Dock Safety Hazards & Safe Work Procedure

Loading Dock Safety Hazards & Safe Work Procedure

Loading docks are busy areas where trucks, trailers, pedestrians, lifting devices, and other equipment typically move throughout the area on a frequent basis. Serious or even fatal injuries can potentially be sustained from loading dock hazards such as unsecured vehicles moving on the dock, lift trucks tip-over or falling, and pedestrian collisions with lift trucks, falling loads, or tractor-trailers. Therefore, it is essential to identify common causes of loading dock injuries and how to prevent typical hazards that may be present in the dock area.

When we think of safety in the transportation industry, we automatically envision Ontario’s roads, streets, and highways. However, safety on loading docks is also important. Loading docks can be dangerous places if not properly supervised. Employees working in and around loading docks need to be aware of the hazards present and follow safe work procedures. In this blog post, we will discuss the hazards associated with loading docks and some safe work procedures that should be followed to minimize the risk of injury.

Loading Dock Hazards

Loading docks are busy places with vehicles and equipment moving about inside and outside the facility. When freight is being moved, time is of the essence. Along with the efficient movement of materials, however, it is important to consider the safety of those working on and around the loading dock.

Although most docks or shipping areas are laid out and equipped to move freight safely and efficiently, they are also a place where a misstep or an inattentive moment can result in an injury. Always watch for hazards, even if you are not involved in the loading or unloading process.

A review of incidents over the last decade in Ontario shows that workers can suffer serious injuries and fatalities at indoor and outdoor shipping and receiving areas. Fatalities have resulted from workers being: 

  • Pinned between loading dock and truck or trailer
  • Pinned between truck and trailer
  • Struck by or run over by a truck
  • Struck by falling items that were not secured
  • Struck by a falling dock plate.
  • Uneven dock surfaces
  • Dock levelers that are not properly maintained
  • Improperly secured loads
  • Poor lighting
  • Inadequate ventilation

Workers in shipping and receiving areas can be exposed to hazards involving external trucking firms contracted to deliver and carry loads. If truck drivers are unfamiliar with the workplace, it can put everyone at risk.

For example, there may be:

  • Different measures and procedures for securing vehicles against accidental movement
  • Unique features involving the yard layout
  • Specialized dock leveling and dock locking systems
  • Lifting devices that drivers may not be trained to use.

Safe Work Procedures

When working on and around loading docks, follow these best practices and procedures:

  • Using the proper material handling equipment when working with loading docks is important. This includes using a forklift or pallet jack to move goods and a safety harness when working on the dock. It is also essential to inspect all components before use to ensure safety.
  • Always use equipment that you are authorized and trained to operate. Follow the manufacturer’s manual for instructions, and never exceed the recommended load rating.
  • One of the key things to remember when working near a loading dock is to keep out of the way of any moving equipment. This means staying clear of forklifts, pallet jacks, and other machinery. It’s also important not to get “trapped” in an injury. This can happen if you’re in the way of a moving piece of equipment and it suddenly starts moving again. To avoid this, always be aware of your surroundings and ensure you have plenty of space to move around safely.
  • Make sure to stay alert for trucks and other traffic, as well as lifting equipment and other cargo. Be especially careful when near fixed objects, dock carts, or cargo being placed into position.
  • When loading or unloading a vehicle, be sure to block the wheels to prevent it from moving. Use caution when doing this, as the brakes on a vehicle can only do so much to stabilize it.
  • One important safety precaution when using loading dock plates is to make sure they are properly secured into position. Failing to do so can lead to accidents and injuries.
Loading Dock Hazards

Safety Around Tractor Trailers

  • When working around tractor-trailers, ensure that the parking brakes are engaged to prevent movement and that the engine is shut off to avoid the buildup of fumes. Fumes from the engine can be dangerous, mainly if a fire occurs.
  • To ensure that the tractor and trailer go nowhere during the loading and unloading process: Have the driver turn over their keys; Place a warning sign in front of the tractor cab; Use a “dock lock” or “wheel lock” system and Require truck drivers to remain in a designated area until loading/unloading is complete.
  • If you are using an air ride suspension, remove the air from the system before loading or unloading. This will help improve the trailer’s stability and reduce the chance of damage to the dock’s bumper pads.
  • Make provisions to prevent railroad cars from being moved during loading and unloading. Wheel stops, hand brakes, and other recognized controls must be used to prevent movement during loading and unloading.
  • This is an important safety step when loading and unloading trailers at the dock. The trailer can easily tip over if you only load or unload from one side. Make sure that both sides are full before beginning the process.
  • Make sure both wheels are chocked. 
  • When using a loading dock, it is important to use jack stands to prevent overbalancing on the dolly legs. This is especially important when using trailers with reefers or pup trailers or when loading heavy materials.
  • Check the trailer floor to ensure it is in good condition and can handle the weight of your truck and load.
  • Use sand or salt to provide better traction if the dock or trailer floors are slippery.
  • Keep pedestrians clear of trailers in particular and generally out of the dock area. If a pedestrian needs to talk to the operator, they should wait to the side of the dock plate out of the lift truck’s path of travel.
  • Make sure the dock and trailer have proper lighting. This will ensure you can see what you are doing and avoid accidents.
  • To keep the loading dock safe, checking the dock plate each time a vehicle rolls over it is essential. If you notice any increase in the space between the trailer and the dock, notify your supervisor immediately. This could indicate a safety issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Leaving a fuel-powered vehicle running on a trailer can lead to dangerous situations. For example, if the vehicle’s exhaust system leaks, deadly carbon monoxide gas can build up in the trailer. To avoid these dangers, always turn off any fuel-powered vehicles before leaving them on a trailer.
  • Stop and look over both shoulders when backing off a trailer to ensure the way is clear. You should also use your mirrors to check what is happening behind you. If there is any obstruction in your path, wait until it is cleared before proceeding.
  • When stacking materials on a trailer, ensure your lift truck has sufficient “free lift” to allow this without damage to the trailer roof.

Safety Around Lift Trucks

When working near the various types of lift trucks at loading docks, follow these best practices:

  • Power lift truck operators must be competent workers to safely operate the vehicles. This means that they must have the necessary training, knowledge, and skills to do so. Employers should ensure that operators have the appropriate certification or licensing, as well as proper on-the-job training. Operators who are not competent workers can cause severe injuries to themselves and others.
  • Maintaining lift trucks in a safe condition is critical for ensuring the safety of workers. lift trucks must be inspected regularly to ensure that all safety features are operational and that the truck is in compliance with regulatory requirements. If any defects or issues are found, they must be corrected immediately.
  • Include elements of an effective powered lift truck safety program in training and safety meetings.
  • When you are working in a warehouse, it is important to always wear suitable clothing and safety shoes or boots. This will help to protect you from potential hazards that may be present in the warehouse environment.
  • When getting in and out of the cab, always use 3-point contact. That means either two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot on the vehicle at all times. This will help you keep your balance and avoid falling.
  • When you’re working in the warehouse, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Keep an eye out for other workers and vehicles, especially near doorways and at the ends of the aisles. If you see someone or something coming, make sure to move out of the way quickly and safely.
  • When you are backing up, always be aware of your surroundings and look in the direction that you are traveling. This will help you avoid any potential accidents or obstacles.

Loading Dock Inspections

It is important that loading docks be well-maintained at all times. Consider these items during regular inspections:

  • Make sure that general housekeeping and maintenance practices are followed. This includes sweeping and cleaning the dock area regularly, checking for spills or leaks, and keeping the dock in good repair.
  • Make sure that passageways and stairs are kept free of obstructions so that employees can move safely around the loading dock.
  • Mirrors are installed at any blind corners to help ensure that the entire dock is being inspected.
  • In order to keep the loading dock area safe for employees and equipment, it is important to keep it clear of ice or snow during inclement weather. This can be done through regular maintenance and inspections.
  • Inspect the loading dock for materials that have been stacked too high. Make sure that the items are not stacked too high and are properly stacked so that they will not tip over.
  • Manual lifting is avoided or reduced when possible.
  • Inspect all equipment to ensure they are in proper working condition. This includes inspecting the equipment for damage, checking for proper operation, and verifying that safety features function properly.
  • Potholes and loose pavement can be safety hazards for employees and equipment. It is important to keep the dock area free of these hazards through regular inspections.
  • Warning signs are placed in areas where required.
  • Truck engines are turned off when not needed.
  • Combustible materials are properly stored.
  • Spill kits are available and maintained.
  • All staff and drivers are aware of the appropriate procedures and safety rules. 
Keys To Loading Dock Safety

Keys To Loading Dock Safety

Working on loading docks presents a variety of hazards for employees and poses special safety issues. Workers must be careful about what they are doing and always be aware of other workers around them—particularly co-workers using forklifts and other forms of material-handling equipment.

Safety tips for loading docks:

1. Be on the Lookout for These Loading Dock Hazards:

  • Slipping or tripping on wet, oily, or broken floor surfaces
  • Falling off dock edges
  • Injuries from falls or unsecured dock plates
  • Injuries resulting from unchocked trailer wheels
  • Illness or unconsciousness from inhaling carbon monoxide from trucks
  • Back injuries from improper lifting and carrying
  • Injuries from careless behavior around forklifts and other vehicles.

2. Keep Floors Clean, Dry, and in Good Condition

  • Place containers, packaging, tools, and other materials safely out of walking and driving areas.
  • Clean up and properly dispose of trash.
  • Place oily rags or other combustible trash in closed containers.
  • Clean up any spills immediately. Alert trained responders to major spills. Follow safety data sheets for cleaning up a chemical spill.
  • Watch out for dripping rain, melting ice, etc.
  • Report any cracked or broken concrete or other flooring.

3. Keep Dock Plates in Place

  • When loading or unloading a truck, always check the dock plate load capacity to ensure it can handle your specific load. Overloading a dock plate can damage the equipment and create a safety hazard.
  • To secure your movable dock boards, start by making sure they are positioned correctly. Then, use something to secure them in place so they don’t slip. This can be anything from a piece of rope to a bungee cord. Whatever you use, just make sure it is tight enough that the boards won’t move around.
  • It’s important to slide dock plates into position rather than drop them. Dropping the plates could damage them, and make it more difficult to get a good seal.  Sliding the plates into position may take a little longer, but it will help ensure that your dock is properly sealed.

4. Take Precautions to Prevent Falls

  • If you’re on a loading dock, it’s important to walk, not run. Running can cause you to slip and fall, which can lead to serious injuries. Plus, walking helps to prevent accidents by giving you more time to react if something unexpected happens.
  • You might think it’s funny to push someone around, but it’s not. It can be dangerous and cause serious injury. Even if you don’t mean to hurt anyone, accidents can happen. So, please be careful and don’t push people around.
  • Edges of loading docks can be extremely dangerous. If you are not careful, you could easily slip and fall off the edge. This could result in serious injury or even death. Always take caution when near the edges of loading docks and never attempt to climb on or jump off them.
  • When loading or unloading goods from a truck, always use the loading dock. Do not jump on or off the dock, as this can lead to serious injury. Use caution when around the loading dock area, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Wear sturdy shoes with nonskid soles that support both the foot and ankle.
  • It’s important to watch where you’re going when you’re loading or unloading a dock. There are a lot of potential hazards, and it’s easy to get injured if you’re not careful.

5. Work Safely with Trucks and Trailers.

  • Before loading or unloading a truck or trailer, it is important to check that the wheels are choked. This will help to prevent the vehicle from moving during the process and ensure a safe and efficient operation.
  • Make sure drivers turn off their motors to prevent carbon monoxide exposure. Invisible and odorless, carbon monoxide can be fatal.

6. Load and Unload Correctly to Prevent Injuries

  • Whenever possible, use a forklift or dolly to move heavy objects instead of trying to lift them by yourself. If you must lift something heavy, ask a coworker for help. Using proper lifting techniques can help prevent injuries.
  • No matter how strong you think you are, never try to lift skids and pallets alone. They can be extremely heavy and difficult to maneuver, and trying to do so by yourself is simply asking for an injury. If you need to move something heavy, always ask for help or use a lifting device like a forklift or crane.
  • When you lift something heavy, it is important to Bend your knees and keep your back straight. This will help to prevent injury by ensuring that your legs do the work, not your back. By keeping your back straight, you will also be able to maintain a good posture and avoid putting unnecessary strain on your spine.
  • Wearing snug-fitting gloves can help you get a better grip when lifting, loading, and unloading. This can help prevent accidents and injuries.
  • Always load hand trucks with heavy objects on the bottom and weight forward over the axle. This will help prevent tipping and make it easier to control the load.
  • When loading or unloading a hand truck, be sure to keep the load balanced and secure. The last thing you want is for your load to topple over and cause damage or injury. To help keep your load stable, make sure the height is at a level where you can see over it. This will give you a better view of what you’re dealing with and help you avoid any potential hazards.

7. Be Alert to Other Vehicles, Workers, and Materials.

  • When working around forklifts, it is important to stay aware of your surroundings and not distract the operator. Try to keep a safe distance from the forklift and avoid walking or standing in its path. Never try to ride on a forklift, as this can be very dangerous. If you need to speak with the operator, do so from a safe distance and make sure they are aware of your presence.
  • If you hear a forklift horn sounding, it’s important to get out of the way. Forklifts can be very dangerous, and you don’t want to be in the way when one is moving around.
  • Be careful of materials on the dock that could fall or roll. Pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of potential hazards. If you see something that looks unsafe, report it to a supervisor immediately.
  • Wear a hard hat, eye protection, and hearing protection when required. This will help protect you from falling or flying objects, as well as noise.


The roles and responsibilities for management, supervisors, and workers are mentioned below. Workers should report concerns to their supervisors and at any time, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) can be contacted for assistance or consultation.

Supervisors, Management, and Principle Investigators

  • Identify workers or work activities where workers may be required to be in loading dock areas.
  • Identify and anticipate the loading dock hazards that may be present.
  • Develop, document, implement and maintain appropriate work procedures, measures, inspections, and precautions to control the loading dock hazards that may be present by using these guidelines.
  • Ensure that a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or written work procedure is completed where necessary and that they are readily available to workers.
  • Ensure controls identified in the JSA or other work procedures are followed for safe work in loading docks.
  • Ensure that workers who are working in loading docks are provided with the equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), appropriate training or other resources as identified by the JSA or other work procedures.
  • Where work is contracted to external parties, equivalent procedures should be followed.


  • Report health and safety concerns, including unsafe loading dock practices or damaged equipment, to supervisors. 
  • Participate in appropriate training to work safely in loading docks. 
  • Review and be familiar with applicable JSA or other work procedures before start of work. 
  • Follow safety procedures and use equipment and/or PPE as defined in the JSA or work procedure.
  • Where requested, assist supervisors in identifying situations with potential of loading dock hazards and participate in the development of the JSA or work procedure.

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