Overlooked Security Threats at the Loading Dock

Cargo theft isn’t anything new. Even with industry-wide underreporting of incidents, a recent article from FreightWaves estimates that cargo theft is responsible for $15 to $30 billion a year. And that staggering figure only accounts for the United States.

According to a recent FBI report, cargo theft trends show that less than 20% of stolen cargo is ever recovered, and security measures at the loading dock or material transfer zone (MTZ) need to be prioritized. From financial losses of missing products to broken trust in profitable long-term relationships and contracts with businesses, there is a lot to lose beyond the physical products.

While some loading dock security threats can be obvious, there are other overlooked threats affecting your supply chain security and, in turn, your bottom line.

Top Loading Dock Security Threats and Solutions

Security threats at the loading dock can be intentional and unintentional. From outright theft to environmental hazards and cargo contamination, every warehouse manager and chief security officer needs to, first, be aware of loading dock security threats to implement the best solutions.

Cargo Theft and Product Tampering

Threat: Theft has always been an issue at the loading dock, but tampering is something that should receive equal concern. As unfortunate as it is, the threat of terrorism by tampering with trailer loads is real. If a trailer is accessible to criminals, the opportunity for sabotaging products or planting explosives exists.

FreightWatch International, a global logistics security services company that aims to mitigate risks associated with cargo theft reported that hot spots for theft and tampering include port cities like California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Illinois. Trailers will move from these ports to destinations that could be targeted by terrorists.

Loading dock security breaches often occur through unsecured or unmonitored trailers and dock openings. Ensuring your cargo and access points are secure is the first step toward reducing your risk.

Solutions: To increase loading dock safety , proper loading dock equipment and communication is paramount.

If a truck backs up to the loading dock, but the trailer isn’t secured to the dock itself, you’re creating a potential opportunity for criminals to steal the truck and its contents. To combat this issue, dock lock vehicle restraints, like Rite-Hite’s Shadow Hook®, can be implemented.

The Shadow Hook vehicle restraint secures intermodal containers and trailers to the dock. Even if that doesn’t visually deter potential thieves, the audible alarm and outside light monitors should. This dock lock can also be linked with an active building security system that will communicate a warning to operators if an engaged restraint is tampered with.

Dock lock vehicle restraints address theft from the trailer, but what about accessibility through your loading dock doors? Particularly in the hot summer months, it had been common practice to keep dock doors open all day long, even when not in use. Leaving your dock open or installing manual overhead doors that have easily breakable locks are two easy ways to open you're warehouse and cargo up to the potential for theft.

While it used to be normal to keep dock doors open to allow cool air to enter the warehouse, retrofitting existing doors with ventilation panels can allow outside air and light into the plant. In addition, high speed doors for exterior applications allow trailers to back up to a closed door and, once secured, have hands-off door opening controls. Hence the only time the door is open is when a trailer is loading or unloading.

A recent resource published by the ASIS Food Defense and Agriculture Security Committee shows that threats of tampering with trailer loads may originate from external or internal sources. Therefore good communication and visibility are essential for preventing loading dock security breaches.

Cargo Damage

Threat: The security of your cargo goes beyond theft. Not only is security needed to avoid theft, but it’s also needed to avoid costly cargo damage.

Cargo damage at the loading dock is an issue when forklifts are transferring between the trailer and the dock. Dock shock, for example, can occur when forklifts transfer materials on an uneven surface between the dock and trailer. This can cause vibrations, leading to chronic back and neck injuries, product spills, and equipment repair costs. The security of your investment or relationship with suppliers or buyers is at risk if not addressed properly.

Solution: Combatting dock shock to secure your cargo and personnel can be at high-speed utilizing contemporary loading dock levelers. Outdated levelers have been known to create a bumpy transition. Still, by implementing automatic, mechanical, and air-powered dock levelers, you can provide a smooth transition for forklifts from warehouse floors to trailer beds while also protecting against vacant dock drop-off accidents.

Contamination and Cargo Health

Threat: Contamination can come in many forms. Environmental hazards, for example, can lead to cargo spoilage or contamination by mold or other bacterial growth due to a lack of temperature control in the trailer or warehouse. Covid-19 has had a profound impact on logistics and supplies, not just locally, but globally leading to increased vulnerability in the supply chain. The impact on lead times in production and distribution exposes risks in cargo health, especially food integrity.

Solution: Environmental separation and control are important to cargo health in a variety of ways. Custom loading dock curtain enclosures help reduce the risk of contamination that threaten to impact cargo health, while reducing the cost of heating and cooling around the loading dock.

Keeping the dock area clean and in compliance with food audit requirements has become increasingly important for loading dock safety. Leveler weatherseals also help increase dock safety by reducing gaps around the dock leveler while keeping unwanted pests away.

Damage Caused by Extreme Weather

Threat: Environmental hazards may not be top-of-mind when considering security threats, but they should be. First, let’s consider your dock doors. Environmental impact on your loading dock doors can be substantial if the proper door type isn’t installed. If you’re in an area prone to high winds, hurricanes, and the like, you need to ensure that your doors can handle the impact that the weather brings.

If high winds can either take down or damage your doors, you’re looking at access points that thieves may take advantage of. Similarly, your warehouse may deal with temperature-sensitive products. If damage to doors or existing gaps can adversely affect your temperature control efforts, you’re looking at the potential for the security of your warehouse operations to be compromised.

Solutions: To address sustainability for loading dock doors in extreme weather conditions, options like Rite-Hite’s FasTrax High-Speed Doors, made for exterior applications that can withstand high winds, are recommended for increased shipping dock safety

The threat created by gaps can be addressed with loading dock seals and shelters. Dock seals utilize foam pads the trailer compresses into when it backs in and comes to rest against the dock bumpers. This forms a gasket-type seal around three sides of the trailer.

Similarly, dock shelters seal the trailer's perimeter and form a seal by applying pressure against the sides of the trailer with industrial fabric curtains fitted with fiberglass stays.

Loading dock security, like safety, must be addressed. With the proper equipment, training, and a fluid sequence of operations, you can reduce the security threats when dealing with cargo transfer you're transferring. The threat will never be extinguished completely, but you can improve loading dock safety as long as you’re aware of the risks and proactive with solutions.

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