Long-Range Planning at the Loading Dock and Inside the Plant: 8 Solutions for Industrial Safety and Productivity

It’s a new year and for individuals and businesses, it means a fresh start and a time for focusing on short and long-term goals. Dealing with issues like labor shortages, supply chain slowdowns, weather and more are certainly top of mind for facility managers this year as they try to meet the needs of their customers and employees. Keeping the loading dock and warehouse up and running in the face of these issues is a daily task, but also, requires some thoughtful long-range planning.

The systems and equipment you have in place now or in the future can allow you to take a phased approach to overall upgrades and facility improvements. Add in a planned maintenance program (PMP) and Internet of Things (IoT) optimization and you can be on your way to a safer and more productive facility.

We’ve collected eight solutions that can help keep valued employees safe and efficient, and put your facility on the right track to long-term productivity.

1. Snow Removal Machines

Snow can create a variety of challenges for loading dock workers and truck operators outside the loading dock. One of the most common problems is snow accumulating on the tops of tractor trailers and trucks. It’s important to clear snow from rooftops to minimize snow and ice from sliding or blowing off onto other motorists (“ice missiles”), and to abide by the laws of many Snow Belt states or provinces. However, manual snow removal can be dangerous and time consuming. Snow brushes, rakes, and ladders can lead to serious injuries and workers’ compensation claims.

Automated snow removal with FleetPlows™ can make the process much safer and more efficient. Using a patented V-shaped blade, a FleetPlow can remove up to 24 inches of heavy rooftop snow safely in 30 seconds or less with the push of a button. Clear snow from roofs of van and reefer trailers, containers, box trucks, and delivery vans. During summer months, these portable snow removal machines can be stored out of the way.

2. Vehicle Restraints

For loading docks that receive trucks and trailers with rear impact guards (RIGs), wall mounted rotating hook vehicle restraints are typically the best option. When winter weather is an issue, a vehicle restraint that provides a clean dock face when in the stored position allows for the safe and efficient removal of snow on the drive approach. Under Leveler Dok-Loks®, such as the VBR-600, help minimize the chance for loading dock equipment damage during routine snow removal. If melted snow or rainwater accumulates at the bottom of a declining drive approach, flood seal options are available to seal and protect the IP-66 rated motor of Rotating Hook Restraints.

Vehicle restraint accessories like Lok-Vu™ and the Dok-Lok Dock Timer can help material handling personnel stay safe and on task as well. Lok-Vu provides a real-time camera view of the vehicle restraint status that workers can see on a monitor inside the loading dock, eliminating the need for workers to go outside on the drive approach. The Dok-Lok Dock Timer actively communicates how long a trailer has been restrained at the loading dock, helping dock workers prioritize which shipments must be completed first.   

3. Loading Dock Seals and Shelters

Paying attention to the loading dock seals and shelters around each dock opening can go a long way in helping prevent snow and precipitation from getting in while keeping heated air from getting out. Overall, having the correct seal or shelter at the loading dock is important all year long.

When trailers are secured to the facility there are still small gaps – sometimes an inch or two – that exist between the frame of the trailer and the dock position. These gaps can let snow or rain inside, where it can accumulate near or on the loading dock leveler. This slip hazard can prove dangerous for forklift operators and pedestrians, as well as slow down the loading and unloading process. Potential water damage to products can also occur.

Loading dock shelters like the Eclipse® can help minimize or even eliminate these gaps on the sides and top of dock openings. Adding a Rainguard® header seal to other dock shelters or dock seals can help minimize snow and water infiltration at the top. You can also protect the fourth side of the loading dock opening from inclement weather with an under-leveler seal option like the PitMaster®.

Not only will these products help stop snow, rain and cold air from getting inside the facility, but they will also help keep warm or conditioned air inside the facility. This can save hundreds of dollars per dock opening.

4. Loading Dock Levelers and Weather Seals

Around the sides of a dock leveler there are gaps between the leveler and the concrete loading dock pit wall. When left uncovered, they can become as large as a 14” by 14” hole in your wall and can contribute to higher energy costs. Installing energy efficient dock leveler weather seals can close those gaps and help reduce heating and cooling costs. They also are beneficial in keeping out debris and pests often paying for themselves in four months or less.

In addition to using an under-leveler seal described above, installing a vertical storing leveler can help with energy efficiency during inclement weather. In what we call a drive-thru application, these levelers allow the trailer to back all the way to the loading dock door and then open the trailer doors from inside a facility, thereby keeping environmental elements outside.

5. Loading Dock Doors

A durable, high-density rubber loading dock door like the Raptor Dock can make a big difference during winter months and beyond. It can stand up to high velocity winds and other wintry weather. Plus, unlike some panel doors at the loading dock, it can withstand impacts from forklifts and feed right back onto its tracks without impacting productivity due to downtime for door repairs.

For added safety, the Raptor Dock door can be interlocked into a safe sequence of operations along with the vehicle restraint and loading dock leveler in the easily programmable Dok-Commander® combined controls. This puts safety first for workers operating equipment at the loading dock while helping to minimize human error or operating equipment out of safe sequential order.

Inside the facility, high-speed doors that are connected to GUI controls can collect usage data. When a door is IoT-enabled with smart technology, using the Opti-Vu® platform, this data can help reveal energy-wasting trends and offer insights to minimize energy use during door operations.

6. HVLS Fans

High-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans can play a role in making your facility safer and more energy efficient year-round. Not only do HVLS fans provide cooling benefits in the summer months, but they also destratify the air in the winter months, saving on heating costs. Revolution® HVLS fans direct warm air at the ceiling of the loading dock and push it down to the floor in a conical shape, where employees and products are located, creating a more uniform ceiling-to-floor temperature. Some facilities can raise or lower the set point on the thermostat while still maintaining a comfortable work environment, reducing the burden on HVAC systems. In addition, the air movement can help prevent moisture buildup on the floor from becoming a slip hazard or causing damage to products/packaging rendering them unusable.

With the Fan-Commander® Wireless Touch Screen Control Station, users can control multiple HVLS fans from a central location to optimize performance throughout a single facility. Schedule fans to operate at certain times or speeds to maximize the energy savings and comfort they deliver.

7. Service, Repair and Maintenance

Most facility managers know that maintaining equipment at the loading dock is critical all year long to make sure the business operates as effectively as possible. When factoring in weather, potential supply chain and labor shortage issues that can impact the time it takes to replace equipment, it’s vital to maintain what’s already there.

Regular maintenance can help extend the life of equipment and keep it running smoothly for many years, but with labor challenges, this can often fall by the wayside due to other priorities. Outsourcing a planned maintenance program with certified experts has many benefits. For one, trained technicians understand exactly how each piece of loading dock equipment works and how to safely maintain them. They also can identify small issues that can turn into major problems without proper service. Having a certified technician perform a PMP can help keep equipment operating as it should while freeing up in-house staff to perform the duties they’re hired to do.

8. Smart Equipment and Data

Safety is first and foremost at the loading dock. And it’s a productive loading dock that ultimately leads to a healthy bottom line for an organization. Smart equipment and technology are making their way into the everyday operations at the dock, including applications that can help with common communication challenges in the busy logistics environment.

Using a software application like Dok-Vu®, shipping and receiving personnel can coordinate and manage deliveries from a paperless platform that gives alerts to stakeholders like truck drivers and material handlers, in real time, to help keep loading docks and logistics staff fully utilized. This can even help reduce detention and demurrage charges.

Additionally, the Dok-Chat® text messaging software allows the logistics office to communicate check-in information to carriers. Drivers receive dock assignment, load complete confirmation and more from the comfort of their heated cab instead of having to get out in snowy and slippery conditions in the yard.

Help Improve Safety and Productivity

These eight solutions, from Snow Removal Machines and Dok-Loks to HVLS fans and IoT Platforms, help make the loading dock safer while improving worker productivity and are smart long-term goals for any type of facility today.

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