FatSeal Door

Safety Trainer, Howard Schwenzer has some tips on how to ensure the safest practices for forklift use on loading docks.


Loading dock fatalities and serious injuries occur when there is unwanted separation between the trailer or truck being loaded or unloaded and the loading dock. Forklift operators are often victims of these incidents when their vehicles fall into the resultant gaps or are driven out of open trailers. In such cases, operators are subject to crushing injuries if the unit overturns during the fall or if it collides with the dock apron.

On average 100 fatalities occur each year and thousands of serious injuries occur according to OSHA BECAUSE OF LACK OF PROPER TRAINING AND THE USE OF ACCEPTABLE SAFEGUARDS AND CHECKLIST.

Note the many ways operators can be injured or killed due to a failure to follow safe work practices:

Fall from loading dock

Incidents can include trailer/dock separation incidents where forklifts fall from vacant docks, or incidents involving workers who fall or jump from docks.

Struck by falling objects or equipment:

Incidents can include trailer/dock separation where the forklift falls onto the victim, forklift rollovers on the dock or other locations, or incidents where workers are struck by falling freight or objects.


1910.178(k)(1):  The brakes of highway trucks shall be set and wheel chocks placed under the rear wheels to prevent the trucks from rolling while they are boarded with powered industrial trucks.

1910.178 (m) (7):  Brakes shall be set and the wheels blocks shall be in place to prevent movement of trucks, trailers, or railroad cars while loading or unloading.

OSHA has issued directives and interpretations that allow for alternative methods of preventing truck movement. These alternatives may include the use of dock lock mechanisms, dock monitoring systems, or other systems which will prevent the unintentional movement of trucks and trailers while being boarded with powered units.

To prevent these types of accidents, we recommend the following ideas to consider:

No single solution will do, the best approach to prevent an incident from occurring is to provide LAYERS OF SAFETY

Trailer/dock separation solutions can be divided between administrative and engineering controls which are listed below:

Procedural controls: Procedures required defining the actions of dock attendants, forklift operators, and truck drivers. The procedures must specify who is responsible for authorizing access to the loading dock, deploying truck restraint devices, inspecting the trailer and restraint devices, releasing the trailer after loading, and other responsibilities.

Require the tractor to be shut-off while positioned at the dock and require the driver to remain in a safe, secure area that is away from the truck until the unit has been loaded or unloaded.

If space is limited think about a policy which would require each vendor to hand in the keys to the truck until the unit is loaded or unloaded.  The clerk could deliver the keys back to the driver along with the Bill of Lading and sign the driver out.

Only allow Pallet Jacks or sit down units to enter trucks / trailers on the loading dock.  Sit down units give the operator more protection because of the use of seat belts. The electric pallet jacks allow the operator to let go of the unit if there is movement of the truck/trailer during loading and unloading.

Never use a standup unit loading or unloading a trailer or truck and keep standup units 10 feet away from the loading dock doors.


All workers must be trained as to specific risks and precautions to be taken to avoid trailer/dock separation. Using only sit-down units with a seat belt secured, never try to jump off a unit. On sit down units only hold onto the steering wheel, brace your feet and stay in the confines of the unit.

All incoming truck drivers must be trained about your dock safety requirements before they can back into your dock.

Wheel Chocks:

Chocks are the oldest and most commonly used constraint system to prevent trailer/dock separation. They are low cost and easy to use.  The main issue with wheel chocks is getting the employees and truck drivers to use them! In addition they must be used properly.  Truck drivers can forget to remove them and drive over the chocks as they move away from the building. If wheel chocks are not properly placed or if they are worn down trailer creep could occur as forklifts repeatedly enter and exit the trailers during loading and unloading process.  Snow and ice on the outside pavement also affects the safety of using wheel chocks.

Preventive Maintenance:

Proper maintenance of forklifts and loading dock equipment is a must for a safe operation

Engineering Controls:

Engineering controls provide a higher level of reliability than when it comes to preventing trailer/dock separation. When properly teamed with procedural and training controls, engineering controls can significantly reduce the probability of trailer/dock separation.   Some commonly used engineering controls include:

Glad hand locks:

When the air hose between the tractor and trailer (glad hand) is disconnected, air is released from the trailer brakes and the brakes lock mechanically. A glad-hand lock is placed on the connection to assure that the mechanical brakes are not released unintentionally.  A potential drawback is the possibility of having tractors drag the trailers while their brakes are locked. However, drivers should be immediately aware that the brakes are locked because of the increased resistance that would be encountered.

Companies could also benefit from the use of “Work Practice Controls” which could include the following:

As the drivers enter the Property they will be instructed to park in a designated area and report to the office to sign in. When they are assigned a door they will back in, chock the wheels and shut down the unit. The drive then will report inside and hand their key to the shipping/receiving clerk and wait until his or her unit is completed.  The clerk will notify the driver that the unit is ready to go sign off on the paper work and give the key back to the driver. The driver will then proceed to the truck remove the wheel chock check to insure the loading dock door is closed and exit the property. The unit cannot move out of the door if the wheels are chocked and the keys are out of the truck.

In Summary:

Multiple solutions are available to significantly reduce the risk of trailer/dock separation incidents. Risk reduction requires redundant controls going beyond simple compliance.