The loading bay area is still probably the most dangerous part of the supply chain even though equipment suppliers have bent over backwards to enhance safety with a stream of new safety products. This means that warehouse operators must look to the people issue, particularly regarding training, if there is to be any significant improvements in safety.

Sometimes, however, when ordering new equipment for a major project safety issues could be compromised if one is dealing with a less than top line supplier.

Simply relying on architects to get a new design right first time would be less than ideal because they do not always appreciate the nuances of loading bay operations. Alan Jenkins, Hormann UK’s sales director, says that choosing the right supplier is key because they will understand their client’s needs and the full range of options available. “Sourcing the complete package from one reputable supplier offers the best guarantee of safety and regulatory compliance,” says Alan.

It is not only important to source the right partner for your new equipment and installation, preferably from a member of the Association of Loading and Elevating Equipment Manufacturers (ALEM), it is also essential to consult early so that safety can be designed in from the outset, saving money long-term and ensuring that efficiency and safety are considered jointly. Given that maintenance can also have a bearing on safety it makes sense to have planned preventative maintenance because this is the most effective kind of maintenance. There is room for improvement here, however, as “maintenance is a big issue in the UK”, commented Alan Jenkins. “There is still a tendency to wait until something breaks before calling in service engineers.”

So if you have partnered with the right kit supplier and agreed a first rate maintenance regime what are the key points to address that most unpredictable, important safety element on the loading bays, namely people? Thorworld believes that people management on safety issues boils down to four key elements: Information, Instruction Training, Supervision. This involves communication about ongoing hazards helped by the use of traffic lights, beacons, sirens and signage designed to separate vehicles from traffic because pedestrians are at higher accident risks than forklift/vehicle drivers. Best practice can minimise the need to have operators at ground level between vehicles and buildings. Managers, in particular, must resist any temptations to cut corners to meet demanding delivery levels and there should be no climate of fear preventing staff from reporting unsafe practices.

All employees must be made aware of the potential dangers around the loading bay and tested for their understanding, particularly important if English is not their first language. Whenever headline accident cases come to court it is often the case that correct procedures were not in place and therefore there was an unsafe system of work in place.

There is no denying that safety in the warehouse has improved significantly over recent years, says Alan Jenkins. But he warns that we should not become complacent.

“Warehouse managers must implement correct procedures and pressure should be put on manufacturers to develop products and systems that help design out hazards. If these are both taken into account, the warehouses and loading bays of the future will be the safest yet,” he adds.