A busy loading dock with a steady stream of deliveries and outbound loads indicates that business is good. Pallets of products stored on a mezzanine ensure that adequate inventory is on hand when needed. These things also mean that loading dock safety must be front-of-mind to keep dockworkers, visitors, equipment, and products safe and secure. That could require installing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-compliant guardrails, mezzanine gates, a swing gate, and other protection devices to help avoid production delays, damaged products, injuries to workers, and expensive OSHA fines.
Loading Dock Safety Essentials
Forklift operators are at risk of injury every time they perform their duties on a loading dock. It takes a great deal of skill and concentration to maneuver a forklift to move pallets and other loads from one truck to another. Even the most experienced forklift operator can become distracted and lose sight of the edge.
According to EHS Today, nearly 95,000 incidents involving a forklift occur every year. These incidents cost companies $135 million in direct costs and another $650 million in indirect costs. Forklifts are essential tools for dock workers, so efforts must be taken to ensure safe operation and that there are proper fall-protection devices in place.
The following are some basic guidelines for providing OSHA-compliant loading dock safety:
1. Create a Visual Barrier
It isn’t always easy for a busy worker to see the edge of a loading dock, especially if they’re distracted or focused. Painting a bright yellow line around the edges of a loading dock is the first line of defense when it comes to fall protection. Yellow is the universal sign of caution and is an effective means of warning workers of the potential danger the edge brings.
2. Install Guardrails and a Swing Gate
Even the most diligent employee can miss the warning of a simple painted line. For this reason, OSHA states that if a loading dock is 48 inches, or higher, guardrails and a swing gate are required. These devices provide additional loading dock safety by physically blocking a worker, equipment, or anything else from falling off the edge.
3. Communication is Key
Loading docks are noisy places, and it’s not always easy to hear another person talking, or even yelling above the din. One way to overcome this issue is to use a light signal system. Workers can see either a green light that indicates they are safe to continue or a red light that warns of danger. Likewise, audible alarms may be used to emit warnings to workers in dangerous situations.
4. Loading Dock Automation
While not required by OSHA, automation plays a significant part in loading dock safety. Programming dock controls to follow a safe order of operations eliminates human error and misjudgments. If a dock worker inadvertently attempts to operate out of sequence, for example, the system won’t allow them to take action. That ensures that workers always follow proper procedures and protocols.
5. Worker Responsibilities
Employees are not without responsibility when it comes to loading dock safety. All workers must understand that it’s important to keep a safe distance from the edge of the loading dock. They also need to keep their work surfaces clean and clear of debris, equipment and other obstacles that hinder their sight or movement. Extra care is required when forklifts and other equipment are operating.
A facility manager or employee might observe these safety recommendations and think that they’ll slow down production. The truth is, slowing down is much better than having to stop because of an accident or injury which can cost a company dearly. Ignoring OSHA rules by failing to install a swing gate or guardrails will also result in citations and hefty fines.
Mezzanine Safety Requirements
A mezzanine is an ideal way to gain valuable floor space in a busy industrial facility. It provides storage for pallets of products as well as a safe walkway for employees. Given their height above the facility floor, they are also a fall hazard that must get addressed to provide a safe work environment and to prevent damage to equipment and machinery. OSHA requires that employers install guardrails, mezzanine gates, and other fall-safety devices.
The following are some basic guidelines for providing OSHA-compliant mezzanine safety:
1. Guardrails and Handrails
Since mezzanines are elevated the risk of falls is increased for workers as they perform their duties. OSHA requires that employers install handrails and guardrails along the perimeter of the mezzanine and stairs to protect workers from falling off the edge. That also ensures that items on the mezzanine do not fall on machinery, equipment, or people working below.
2. Mezzanine Safety Gates
Maintaining a safe environment on a mezzanine means limiting access with mezzanine gates. Mezzanine gates come in a variety of styles including those that slide vertically, those that swing, and pivoting models. The form chosen must provide adequate protection for workers without hindering their movement or infringing on their ability to complete their work.
3. Visual Barriers and Warnings
Mezzanine safety is much like loading dock safety in that the edges of the mezzanine must be clearly defined. Brightly colored, contrasting lines on the perimeter warn workers of where the edge is. Yellow is the color of choice for this purpose as it stands out against almost any background and indicates danger.
4. Good Housekeeping
Even with OSHA compliant guardrails, mezzanine gates, a swing gate, and visual barriers mezzanines are dangerous places. It’s necessary to practice good housekeeping by keeping stairs and walking surfaces clear and clean. Obstructions such as pallets, equipment, tools, and supplies must be managed to minimize trip hazards and ensure safe walkways.
OSHA takes worker safety very seriously, and it behooves facility managers to do the same. Loading dock and mezzanine safety should be a top priority. Proper fall-protection devices at loading docks and on mezzanines are not just a requirement; they make good business sense. When employees are safe, they’re more productive; morale is higher, which benefits the company significantly. Not only do they realize higher profits, but also lowered costs and less downtime. What’s more, companies that remain OSHA compliant do not incur penalties and fines.