Loading bays are most susceptible to accidents despite the many safety improvements that equipment suppliers have spawned over recent decades. The usual remedies trotted out to improve the safety record, like the need for adequate training and staff participation to report dangerous practices without fear of whistle-blowing opprobrium, while commonly understood are evidently not enough. Arguably, the reason for that is the unpalatable truth of handling performance pressures clashing with safe running practices to meet demanding delivery schedules. The result is that corners are cut and accidents occur.

Would, however, a rethink on the types of handling trucks used help reconcile demanding operating pressures with the need to make safety paramount? There is rarely a one-size fits all solution in materials handling and sometimes bringing aboard new equipment or making small changes to how one works can yield big improvements. A key yardstick to measure loading bay efficiency is the cost of each pallet moved per day. Given that the cost of loading/unloading can vary significantly depending on the type of handling truck used, it’s important to break down these costs by truck type. If it can be shown that a change of truck type sharply lowers handling costs then that would take the pressure off management to cut corners, the underlying cause of many accidents, because more time would be made available. Just as risk assessment should be done for safety reasons so, too, a business methods assessment should be done.

Let’s take three examples. In the first, based on loading/unloading from ground level with a counterbalance forklift working with curtain-sider lorries, the total handling cost per pallet moved could be 0.75 Euro based on, say, 150 pallets unloaded each day. If the unloading was done from a bay dock with a hand pallet truck the total unloading cost per pallet would be little different at 0.78 Euro. But if unloading from the bay with a ride-on pallet truck the cost would be only 0.50 Euro per pallet moved. Time and money saving could also be much enhanced, and thus relieve time constraints, by switching from conventional counterbalance trucks to articulated forklifts where there are no raised docks and the storage racking medium serving the loading bay areas is narrow or very narrow aisle, where conventional counterbalance trucks cannot work. Fitted with RDTs and scanners, articulated trucks could decant a curtainsider and go straight to the allotted racking slot and from there pick up another pallet load for direct delivery to a waiting despatch trailer, thus cutting out wasted time from single cycling, the cost of deploying more than one type of forklift, and preventing time lost interfacing an articulated truck with a counterbalance.

Safety can also be improved if a viable case can be made for automaton on the dock, while also improving handling rates, because few, if any, people are close to moving vehicles. Some of these one-shot vehicle loading systems from Joloda and Actiw have been around for decades, joined last year by a newcomer from Spain, Duro Felguera, which can work with any type of truck or container and requires no modification with any components, like bumpers, holders, conveyor belts, brackets and skirting boards. Its maker claims that it can load more pallets per minute than any other conventional loading system with rates of about 150 pallets per hour compared with 60/70 for any conventional system.