Even though it takes place day in, day out, in logistics operations nationwide, loading and unloading LGVs using equipment such as lift trucks or pallet trucks can be dangerous. The combination of other vehicles moving in the area, the characteristics of trailer suspension movement, pedestrians, drivers, and the loading bay environment in general all increase risk. Add to that heavy loads, moving vehicles, and working at height, and there is the potential for injuries or fatalities if loads are not handled correctly.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to make sure that you set a strong and safe foundation around loading operations, with the right systems and infrastructure in place. Here are our 5 tips to help you ensure you’re set up for safer loading operations.
1. Deliver the right training
By their very nature, loading and unloading operations are risky, so employers must ensure that their material handling equipment (MHE) operators involved in loading and unloading, with counterbalance lift trucks, pallet trucks or stacker trucks for instance, are specifically trained in safe working practices and aware of the risks.
Vehicle and trailer loading can be carried out in a number of different ways but many of the safety protocols and considerations are the same, regardless of the approach taken and should be communicated as part of operator training for both safety and compliance.
Ensuring that MHE operators receive adequate training across all three stages – Basic, Specific Job and Familiarisation training – is a tried and tested method for employers to not only improve load handling safety and reduce damage, but also to maximise productivity and ensure compliance with relevant regulations.
2. Be prepared
One essential element of operator training is understanding what should be done before loading or unloading even begins. During training, they should be taught that they must take personal responsibility for their own safety and should not rely on other parties to make all necessary checks and take appropriate safety steps.
Policies and procedures regarding vehicle safety at loading docks will vary from site to site, but regardless of site-specific guidelines, prior to loading or unloading, the vehicle or trailer must be properly secured and ready. Safety considerations could include the LGV having the parking brake on, neutral engaged, engine switched off with key removed, wheels chocked and any stabilisers or ‘semi-trailer trestles’, such as 5th wheel supports, applied. The vehicle load deck should be assessed for condition or any debris prior to loading.
Driver communication should also be addressed. Operators should know how to manage the risk of drive-aways and that loading requirements should be clarified with the driver. Employers should consider ways to tackle any language barriers that may be encountered during this process.
3. Establish what a ‘good’ load looks like!
All loads or pallets should be in good condition prior to loading, so operators need to be trained as to what ‘good’ looks like. Through lift truck operator training or pallet truck operator training, they must be taught how loads should be properly secured to pallets and once on the vehicle, how pallets should be securely attached to the vehicle so that they cannot move or fall off. Of course, overhanging loads should be kept to a minimum but ideally avoided wherever possible.
Loads should be spread evenly, as far is reasonably practicable, as uneven loads can make the vehicle unstable. Operators should understand how to secure and arrange loads appropriately so that they do not slide around and to use any available safety equipment. Consideration must also be given to ‘multi drop’ deliveries and which loads will be first off so that the vehicle can be loaded in the correct sequence.
To ensure safety, during loading consideration must be given to the unloading operation too so that the load will arrive in a safe and suitable condition. Operators should be taught best practice around this, as well as the checks that must be made before unloading a vehicle or trailer to make sure load movement has not occurred during transport, as it is important to check that the load will not move or fall when restraints are released.
4. Consider specific risks
Even if an operator understands the policies, processes, and fundamentals of how to load or unload a vehicle, specific knowledge will also be needed for safety in your particular operation. For instance, consider the specific set of risks posed by trailers that an operator may not have encountered before.
An operator may already understand that if they are using a lift truck with a mast that all round observations must be made to ensure that there is adequate clearance above, but have they been taught that they must take extra care when loading and unloading unsupported semi-trailers as excessive weight placed over the kingpin may result in the trailer tipping forwards? Or that there is no edge protection if they are loading or unloading curtain-side trailers?
Incorrect MHE operation during loading can lead to upending or damaging the trailer, collapsing the landing gear, lateral instability, trailer suspension movement, load bed damage or working at height incidents all of which pose a serious risk to safety. Operators should be trained with an understanding of how to assess and reduce these risks.
5. Ensure understanding of other equipment
Operators also require a thorough understanding of the purpose of equipment such as ramps, dock bridging platforms or goods lifts, and the safety checks they should undertake before using the equipment. For example, operators must be able to check if the equipment is compatible with the vehicle or trailer, how to secure it properly so that is doesn’t move and how to securely fit any edge protection.
Ramps, platforms, and lifts should be marked with the maximum load they are designed to carry, but does the operator know the combined weight of their truck and the load? And has the ramp, platform or lift been authorised for driving on by the owner or employer?
Equipment should be inspected regularly for integrity, but the operator must always check that it is free from any damage or faults. In the case of a dock leveller platform, operators also need to know to confirm that the platform is level and be able to confirm the condition and functionality of dock engagement systems, including mechanical interlocks and traffic light systems. And when using tail lifts, operators must be trained to approach the lift with the load leading, turn 90 degrees and park away from the sides before the lift is operated.
Reduce risks with lift truck operator training now!
The correct lift truck operator training and assessment is essential for improving safe loading. For high quality MHE operator training to boost safety and compliance, find an RTITB Accredited Training Provider near you now.