When semi-trucks arrive at the loading dock to drop off or pick up inventory, a team of dock workers springs into action. It can get busy, as employees look to complete their assigned tasks as soon as possible without damaging the product or hurting anyone. Forklifts are a common site, as are pallet jacks, hand trucks, and even employees manually lifting and carrying product to or from the truck.

What your employees need to know about loading docks

After a semi-truck arrives, the driver drops off the trailer and heads on to their next assignment. Once disconnected from the truck, trailer creep may occur. This is where the trailer "creeps" away from the dock if its wheels are blocked or otherwise restrained, resulting in a gap between the dock and the trailer. Trailer creep also occurs each time a forklift operator enters or exits the trailer. Due to the weight of the forklift, the trailer can move even farther away from the dock, causing any initial gap to widen. As the gap grows; the risk for injury increases.

A forklift can get stuck in the gap or fall to the ground below, potentially ejecting and even landing on top of the driver. A pallet jack operator could lose control of that device and also fall off the trailer or dock.

Employees who try to jump from the dock to the trailer could land wrong and fall. The potential for injury is significant.

What your employees need to do while working at a loading dock

Before anyone enters the trailer, your employees—not the truck driver—must secure the trailer with a wheel restraint device. The restraint system is designed to limit forward movement of a trailer, but doesn’t always eliminate it. Your employees need to monitor the trailer for movement throughout the loading and unloading process, and reposition the trailer when a gap forms.

The three most common restraint systems are:

  • Wheel chocks: Wedge-shaped blocks placed in front of the rear wheels of a trailer.
  • Wheel-based restraints: Mounted to the dock approach, these are designed to engage the rear tire of the trailer hold it in place
  • Automated restraint: Mounted on the outside wall beneath the dock’s opening, a hook automatically extends and wraps around the rear impact guard on a trailer.

If the wheel chocks are being used, workers must make their way to the ground below the dock and place the chocks in front of the rear tires of the vehicle, before any work begins inside the trailer.

If a wheel-based or automated system is being used, check to make sure the system has engaged securely.

Because the restraint method is not 100 percent trailer-creep proof, workers will need to pay close attention throughout the day to where the dock and trailer meet—specifically watching for trailer creep.

  • Make note of any gaps—regardless of how small—and communicate this information to coworkers and supervisors. When a gap starts to form, it’s time to reposition the trailer back up against the dock before that gap reaches a dangerous level.

What to cover at your safety meeting about loading docks

Discuss with your employees the dangers of trailer creep, how it happens, and the dangers your workers face. Photo displays and videos showing this danger can be included in this discussion.

Also, identify the vehicle restraint method you use and provide hands-on training so everyone knows what to do.

  • If you are using the wheel chocks, have your employees practice putting them in place. Show them how to determine if they are secure.
  • If you use the wheel-based or automated restraining systems, demonstrate how those work, and how to ensure they are in place.

Establish a system your employees will use to monitor trailers throughout the day, and how to determine that a gap is forming.

Remind your employees of their role in the safety process, and that these extra steps are required to protect them. If something doesn’t look right, report it.

Workplace safety cannot exist on best practice guidelines and policies alone. A safe working environment is based on how well the people, in both management and on the dock floor, adhere to and communicate about workplace hazards like trailer creep, and encourage each other to take the steps to prevent injury.