Despite all the safety innovations built into loading bay equipment over recent decades the loading bay stubbornly remains a high risk area, where 25% of workplace transport accidents occur. This unacceptable fact derives from two main causes: the safety culture on site is inadequate and pressures to meet delivery schedules encourage corner-cutting or skimping on training. The main solution involves implementation of simple, low-cost procedural changes, but more costly structural site changes may be necessary.

The first step to a safer environment is to conduct a risk assessment, which may be ongoing for some time to gather evidence of current work patterns through video footage, for example. This will identify how vehicle and pedestrian traffic interact in the loading bay area. It will show who is most at risk, and if true to form will reveal that workers on foot are most at risk in forklift accidents, accounting for around 57% of all serious injuries and deaths. This clearly points to segregation of transport equipment from pedestrian traffic as a key issue, and all involved should be encouraged to report potential hazards and near misses, rather than be discouraged by unsympathetic management who regard whistle blowers and moaners as trouble makers.

Obvious, cheap methods to keep trucks and pedestrians safely apart include: 1) Floor painting traffic routes 2) Raised curbs to separate two traffic routes 3) Elevated walkways 4) Crash proof barriers 5) Blue light warning systems on trucks and doors 6) Proximity alarms on trucks 7) One-way systems to eliminate vehicle reversing 8) Waiting areas for lorry drivers during loading and unloading 9) Anti-slip paint on bay floors, especially if prone to water ingress.

Most loading bays are different and because they present many different hazards a robust, ongoing training regime is essential and in this one can obtain help from kit suppliers (OEMs) as well as from specialist training firms like Mentor. A loading ramp for internal and yard work may not seem a potentially hazardous piece of kit but even here ramp manufacturers like Thorworld provide a yard ramp training programme, which highlights the potential dangers of ramps used incorrectly.

If your accident rate is high it may be worthwhile engaging one of the leading loading bay kit suppliers to come up with a comprehensive review of melding new safety equipment and safe work practices. Help is also available on practical measures to improve safety on your site from the FLTA’s Safe User Group, a special form of membership for forklift truck users that includes continual operational support, a help and advice hotline and a cache of essential safety resources.

If volume throughputs are high and likely to go higher, a prospect facing many distributors handling e-commerce orders, then appropriate automation could eliminate the worst safety hazard – forklift/pedestrian interaction. One-shot vehicle loading systems like those from Joloder, Actiw and Ancra Systems could handle palletised loads fed not by forklifts but by conveyors connecting end-ofline packaging/palletising systems with the one-shot loaders. In time, the remorseless rise in e-commerce, sustained by smaller delivery vans to homes, could be fed by telescopic or flexible roller conveyors which would remove forklifts from the bays.