The transportation sector has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. Consumer demand has accelerated across industries, with world trade in goods and services amounting to US $22 trillion in 2020. At the heart of every logistics operation lies the loading bay. As thousands of new logistics drivers and packers take up newly created roles to keep up with demands, it’s more important than ever for employers to understand the challenges involved in logistics and how to ensure loading bay safety concerns are addressed thoroughly.
According to Great Britain’s health and safety body, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are 13 fatalities and 26,000 non-fatal injuries per year within the UK transportation and storage industry. And with a high percentage of accidents happening in or around the loading bay, it is considered one of the most dangerous areas.
Of course, this is a highly regulated industry: logistics operations must adhere to strict health and safety regulations. But a good working environment is also key to employee morale, which is a crucial factor in retention. With higher than usual levels of staff turnover, ensuring everyone understands the dangers is vital. This is especially important in working environments using heavy machinery to move large packages and products, or where hazardous materials are being unloaded or loaded. Accidents can easily happen, especially in the loading bay – so how can businesses identify and mitigate these risks?
What are the risks?
The economic cost of workplace injury is estimated at more than £800m. The challenge for logistics operations is the diversity of both the risks and causes of injury. For example, falls off the edge of the dock can be a result of slippery floors, a lack of removable barriers or distractions. Heavy machinery can fall forward if wheels are not properly chocked. And poor communication from drivers – or engines left on during the loading process – can also lead to injury. In addition, these procedural errors can create other dangers, such as gaps opening between vehicles and loading bays.
Organisations can overcome these risks by implementing robust safety practices across the loading area – and the first place to start is identifying dangers.
A comprehensive risk analysis is essential. Indeed it is a legal requirement. This robust process should determine the specific threats within the organisation’s loading bays. Taking a walk around the space and considering what employees will be doing day-to-day can quickly highlight potential dangers. Are floors kept clear? Are there any overhead electric cables and, if so, is there any risk of a chance touch or electricity jumping to 'earth' through machinery, loads, or people?
It is also important to review recent health and safety incidents to identify particular problems that are occurring. This helps to understand the risks from an employee perspective. What tasks are they struggling to complete safely? Are the same injuries occurring frequently? Forklift truck usage is one area of particular concern – on average, they are involved in about a quarter of all workplace transport accidents.
Having determined current safety issues, the next step is to introduce appropriate mechanical solutions for safety, warning signs, training, and electrical safety.
Automated loading bay systems
With so many injuries caused by the use of equipment such as forklift trucks, it is well worth considering the role loading systems can play in improving workforce safety. Automated loading systems are built to speed up a standard process that happens in every production and warehousing location – the 45 minutes it takes to unload using a forklift takes under five minutes with an automated system. By removing the use of forklifts, companies immediately reduce the risk to employees, improving safety.
Adding further automation will also significantly improve both efficiency and employee well-being. By connecting the entire auto-loading docks and unloading docks to a conveyor or autonomous guided vehicles (AGV), the complete loading procedure can be de-manned. This 100% automation is, by default, far safer as no manual intervention is required.
Loading bay safety starts with employees
Human error is one of the main causes of injury in loading bays and other areas of logistics facilities. Indeed, one employee’s mistake can make the entire environment unsafe. To avoid injury, organisations must provide staff with the right training, including the correct use of equipment and safe behaviour.
Regular training and education for employees working within the loading bay should cover a range of issues. This includes the prevention of chronic or acute injury through incorrect lifting methods; the correct way to secure cargo when loading; and the safe removal of secured cargo when unloading the truck.
Good signage is also important to support employees as they move around the loading bay. For example, marking ‘danger zones’ ensures individuals know where to go, such as avoiding loading dock edges. Signage helps to direct traffic flow correctly, too. Additional signage reminding drivers to turn off engines is key to avoid the build-up of poisonous carbon monoxide in the loading bay area. Providing weight rating signs on each element of the loading bay equipment will remind employees of the weight limits in place, avoiding dangerous overloading situations.
Additionally, it is worth reminding people that loading bays must remain tidy and clear of hazards at all times. Small pieces of packaging can get stuck in machinery and pose a trip hazard; while even small spills can have significant ramifications, with oil spills requiring special attention. For experienced individuals, additional signage may feel unnecessary but with the considerable number of new employees entering the logistics industry, providing clear, up to date information is essential. It will help to improve safety and, equally important, add confidence and boost morale for new members of the workforce.
Automation: the key to ensuring loading bay safety?
Efficient loading bays are core to the success of any logistics operation. But these hubs of activity can be not only incredibly inefficient, but also extremely hazardous. Automation is increasingly important for any business today to transform productivity, improve efficiency and to demonstrate that health and safety comes first. This means improving end-to-end automation to reduce the manual activity required by employees, as well as implementing stringent safety processes and giving all staff appropriate, timely training.
The benefits are tangible. Automation improves effectiveness and also creates a safe and healthy workforce. Creating the right working environment not only improves employee morale – which is key to retention – but also contributes to greater productivity, ensuring the business meets demand and builds a satisfied, committed customer base.