The loading bay can do much to improve its environmental credentials in ways, perhaps, are little realised. The more obvious ‘green’ issues revolve around heat loss through poorly insulated or inappropriate doors or where there is an open door policy, but what are the ways and means to reduce the noise factor and how can that improve the environment?

Research in the Netherlands has shown that evening and night time distribution can cut travel times for delivery vehicles by up to 50%, resulting in significant savings on fuel, and cutting environmental problems owing to noise. One problem with this, however, is that any planned warehouse or distribution centre for operating night time deliveries close by residential housing would meet local opposition for obvious reasons.

It may be possible, however, for noise reduction measures to make evening or night time loading bay operations more acceptable to the public. Loading bay specialist, Hormann (UK), carried out a survey a few years ago with a large 3PL to determine the noise levels of what they perceived was the noisiest operation on the loading bay – the loading and unloading of empty roll-cages. Decibel ratings as high as 110 dBa were recorded when empty roll-cages were run over the Durbar plate generally used by most dock leveller manufacturers. By coating one of the levellers with a special poly-urea non slip coating, the decibel level was cut to 85 dBa. Further noise reduction was achieved by installing sound absorbing sheets under the dock leveller plate.

What this shows is that sometimes the solution to a noise problem can be simple and cheap. Noise, however, comes in many forms and in residential areas diesel lorry engines are noisy and so would need to be addressed at some expense for them to become more acceptable for nocturnal work. In the future, a partial solution to this problem could be to ensure large distribution centres are built on city peripheries where they pose no noise problem for nearby residents, with short deliveries to city centre stores done by electric vans.

Other noise suppression techniques on the loading bay include adaptation of the materials handling equipment, like pallet and forklift trucks. Toyota, for example, offer manual and powered products designed to meet noise abatement directives across Europe. These include the BT Silent Lifter (less than 60 dBa) equipped with special shock-absorbing material on the frame to reduce noise from vibrations. Adjustable rubber studs at the push rod ends further reduce rattling when forks are fully lowered.

Good, safe loading bay design will help warehouses achieve acceptable energy performance certificates, an issue of growing importance because by 2018 those buildings with F and G ratings will be forbidden to trade. Already, environmental factors, like the pursuit of carbon emission targets, are affecting the design of loading bays and their equipment. Alan Jenkins, commercial director of Horman UK, has seen more requests about ‘U’ values and thermal insulation values of loading bay doors. This is driven by the end users meeting their green credentials and reducing energy costs that have risen sharply over the last two years. A third reason is to enable designers and builders achieve Breeam Excellent standards.

One area, however, where Britain seems to be lagging over loading bay issues is preventive maintenance and in a sense this could be seen as an environmental issue affecting staff. According to Alan Jenkins, Britain lags behind Europe on preventive maintenance and “still many companies will not take out service agreements to ensure the safe and efficient operations of the loading bay equipment until it breaks down, which many prove to be both costly in repairs and litigation costs if someone has been hurt and it has been proven that the equipment has not been maintained.”

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