What Hazards Do Workers Face on Loading Docks?
March 5, 2021
Thousands of workers are seriously hurt each year in loading dock accidents. Workers face many hazards on loading docks, including congested workspaces, unwieldy loads, large trucks on the move, noisy environments that impede communication, adverse weather conditions, and working four feet above ground level at a rapid pace. Although safety guidelines exist to help workers avoid injury, loading dock accidents continue to happen. If a worker has been injured on a loading dock, the Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP have the skills and experience to investigate the accident and help determine the best course of action for preserving the worker’s rights.
What Types of Accidents Happen on Loading Docks?
Loading dock accidents account for approximately one-fourth of all work-related injuries at warehouse locations. Loading docks are designed to enable the transfer of shipments between trucks and facilities, such as a warehouse or industrial building. The types of accidents that occur on loading docks include the following:
- Caught in/between. Workers may get caught in/between a forklift and a pallet, pinned between the loading dock and a tractor trailer, or crushed under loads that are improperly secured.
- Struck-by. Workers are at risk for being struck by flying debris or falling pallet jacks.
- Falls. Truck drivers, forklift operators, or dockhands may be seriously injured if they fall off the loading dock.
Loading docks are designed to make the transfer of goods as fast as possible, as they are built at the height of a semi-trailer. This obviates the need to roll the goods up and down a ramp between the back of the trailer and ground level. The standard height of a loading dock in North America is 48 inches; however, heights up to 55 inches are not uncommon.
The factor of height in itself is a major hazard. Some of the most serious loading dock accidents occur when a forklift falls through a gap between the dock and the truck. This can easily happen if the truck driver thinks the loading or unloading operation is complete and separates the trailer prematurely.
What Causes Trailer Separation?
Trailer separation is one of the most serious hazards that workers face on a loading dock. Each year, thousands of accidents occur when forklift operators fall off a loading dock. This often happens when a trailer separates unexpectedly. Causes of trailer separation include the following:
- Miscommunication between truck drivers and dock workers. The noisy environment of a loading dock may make it difficult for drivers and material handlers to coordinate a time for the trailer to move.
- Trailer creep. A trailer may shift away from the dock because of the weight of the forklift entering or exiting the trailer. In some cases, the trailer may pop up.
- Lack of safety devices. Industrial wheel locks and vehicle restraints are two types of safety devices. Vehicle restraints are hydraulic devices mounted under the loading dock that automatically secure to a tractor trailer’s rear impact guard to prevent the trailer from separating.
- Failure to follow safety protocols. Safety protocols must be strictly observed.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes safety guidelines for preventing unexpected trailer separation, including the following:
- The brakes of highway trucks shall be set, and wheel chocks placed under the rear wheels to prevent the trucks from rolling while they are boarded with powered industrial trucks.
- Fixed jacks may be necessary to support a semi-trailer and prevent upending during loading or unloading, when the trailer is not coupled with a tractor.
- Covers and/or guardrails shall be provided to protect personnel from the hazards of open pits and other hazards.
Despite safety guidelines, loading dock accidents continue to happen. The injuries caused by trailer separation can be serious or even fatal. In one case handled by Galfand Berger LLP, a 35-year-old materials handler suffered severe fractures when a tractor trailer pulled away from the loading dock while she was standing on the dock plate. The truck driver failed to dock the tractor trailer properly. The trucking company was found negligent because the driver pulled away from the loading dock without warning. Galfand Berger LLP recovered more than $1 million for the woman, who was left permanently disabled.
Who is Responsible for Load Safety?
Improper load safety can also contribute to accidents. In general, the driver of a truckload of goods is responsible for inspecting cargo to ensure that it is securely loaded. However, in many instances, the truck driver has little to no control of the type of freight they are picking up at a loading dock. This is particularly true for trucking companies that haul mixed freight, which is also referred to as less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping. In this situation, the warehouse or manufacturing facility is responsible for securing loads and following proper loading safety protocols.
Goods at warehouses are typically stored on steel racks or wooden pallets. Accidents can happen if storage racking is not installed properly or if it is damaged and not repaired. Accidents also happen when facilities fail to follow established safety protocols.
In one case, Galfand Berger LLP represented a truck driver injured in an accident at a manufacturing facility loading dock when a large package fell off a forklift onto his right foot. Galfand Berger LLP determined that the manufacturing facility was negligent in that it lacked proper loading safety policies that, if implemented, would have prevented the accident. Galfand Berger LLP recovered $175,000 in damages for the driver.
What Should I Do if I am Injured in a Loading Dock Accident?
Workers who are injured in a loading dock accident should always seek medical attention, even if they believe their accident is not serious. As soon as possible, injured workers should also do the following:
- Report the accident to the employer. Failure to give notice within specified time limits may disqualify workers from receiving benefits.
- Follow the company’s posted procedures for giving notice and obtaining treatment. Workers may be required to see doctors selected by their employers.
- Contact a Workers’ Compensation lawyer. A qualified lawyer can ensure that all necessary paperwork is filed properly to preserve the worker’s eligibility for benefits.
Workers’ Compensation is designed to pay for medical expenses and lost wages, regardless of who is at-fault for an accident. However, Workers’ Compensation does not pay for pain and suffering and other damages. Many times, workplace accidents are the result of negligence due to a third party. In these situations, injured workers have the right to file a third-party personal injury claim to recover damages from the accident.
What Third Parties May be Held Liable for a Loading Dock Accident?
Third parties that may be held liable for a loading dock accident include:
- Equipment manufacturers or dealers. If a worker is injured by a forklift or other equipment that lacked necessary safety features, the worker may have the right to file a products liability lawsuit against the company that manufactured or sold the product.
- Owner of the warehouse or manufacturing facility. Injured workers may have grounds for filing a premises liability suit against the owner of the loading dock if a dangerous condition was known to have existed on the property, such as a faulty steps or another preventable hazard.
- Trucking companies. If the injured worker was employed by the warehouse or manufacturing facility, the trucking company may be found liable if trailer separation caused the accident because the truck driver did not follow safety protocols when docking the truck.
- An outside contractor other than an employer may have created a hazardous condition or failed to follow safety policies.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Assist Workers Injured in Loading Dock Accidents
If you are injured in a loading dock accident, improve your chances for achieving the best possible outcome by reaching out to the Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP. We can evaluate the details of the accident to determine whether you have a valid third-party claim. We are available now to review your case and give you the assistance you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-222-8792 or contact us online. From our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.