I am attorney Michael Ehline. I am an expert in transportation and warehouse accidents occurring in the Material Transfer Zones (“MTZ”) of warehouses. Having worked at a Home Depot when I was reading for the law, I am very familiar with loading dock and dock plate failure mishaps. And I have litigated multiple falling overhead object cases.
I am also an expert as to the many ways these tragic events can occur. According to Safety and Health Magazine, approximately 25% of all warehouse injuries to workers and others occur during loading dock operations.
In 2017, 270,000 transportation and warehousing industry injuries were reported, along with a whopping 819 deaths in the U.S. Only the building industry surpasses transport and warehouse killings, which recently grew 5.3% from 2016 to 2017! When you think about it, almost everything shipped from a farm, chemical or product manufacturing plant, or seaport ends up at a shipping and receiving dock somewhere.
In addition to taxpayers’ costs in workers’ compensation, social security disability, and other entitlements, loading dock accidents hurt private companies. For example, some estimates say that private industry pays out $675 million annually for loading dock-related injuries, many caused due to avoidable accidents. Based on statistical data, that means, on average, a work accident costs companies around $189,000 per injured worker.
Wow! But the good news is that certain worker safety classes and automatic vehicle restraint devices, shown here, are proven to mitigate or eliminate severe injuries and death at warehouse loading and unloading areas. And there are also other common sense ways to keep workers safe we will discuss below. Of course, when these products fail, workers and families may have rights to compensation under product liability laws, reviewed here.
According to Wikipedia, a loading dock is defined:
“… as an area of a building where goods vehicles (usually road or rail) are loaded and unloaded. They are commonly found on commercial and industrial buildings, and warehouses in particular. Loading docks may be exterior, flush with the building envelope, or fully enclosed.”
There are four basic types of loading docks used for commercial truck shipping and receiving, as follows:
In addition to my personal experiences as a warehouse worker, I have successfully represented people injured in various docking bays of all types, in all classifications of wrecks. Below, I will discuss what owners, workers, and even experts need to know about these cases. Some common hazards leading to Los Angeles loading dock accidents are:
Enclosed loading docks are particularly crucial for efficient shipping and receiving of various agricultural and commercial products and goods from all around the world during lousy weather. Because most farming machines like trucks are high off the ground, elevated warehousing docks have long been the efficient solution. Trucks back into the elevated dock, open their gate, and workers can roll and carry the pallets, boxes, and other items quickly. But accidents happen a lot during this process, and many cause severe and debilitating injuries to people and property.
Loading dock safety is a critical element in avoiding personal injuries at or near trucks and trailer staging areas. So let’s take a look at that first. Everyone sees 18 wheeler trucks and trains on the streets and highways. Many lorries delivering goods to smaller strip malls, for example, use a hydraulic gate lift to load and unload a few provisional goods and items like beer, pizza dough, hardware, you name it. But what about larger loads going into a warehouse? It would be very time-consuming to unload a whole truck using a tail lift. Time is money in the transportation business.
Loading docks and loading bays are vital in the efficient operation of our free market, economic infrastructure. Because of this, parked trucks remain in the commo rear areas of commercial and industrial buildings and warehouses as they wait for their turns. Anyone who has driven through the rear of a grocery store, or even Camp Pendleton’s 52 Area, has seen a loading dock. Although they come in many configurations, discussed below, I know from having been “volunteered” to work at the School of Infantry’s chow hall. These bays are dangerous places for workers lollygagging around the dock plates.
Inside most loading areas, there will be a receiving area with large metal storage shelves reaching high to their warehouses’ metal roofs. Forklifts and workers remain crucial to quick loading and offloading of items for storage into the overhead bins and shelves or sent directly into the store’s merchandise overheads elsewhere. A proper General Manager or Safety Guide should be there orchestrating the balance between efficiency and safety during this stressful period.
Even then, a small or large object falling on a worker can cause death or serious injury. And this remains true whether the person was wearing safety protection, such as a hard hat, or not.
Yes, this appears to be the case for the reported study period. OSHA claims that from 2004 to 2014, they investigated 209 docking accidents coupled with injuries or death. Almost half of these accidents were classified as fatal. Back injuries from improper lifting or carrying are also high on the list for many warehouse workers. And even with hernia belts and things like mechanical lifting devices, people can get hurt.
The loading dock area must be inspected regularly to identify potential hazards that might include risks for many of the below items.
Slip, trip, and fall accidents remain common along loading docks. Some warehouses use smooth concrete flooring, which only adds to weather conditions such as high humidity or rain, for example. Trucker and laborers constantly track water, mud, and other debris, due to icy or stormy conditions outside the storage facilities.
The additional problem of vegetables and fruits falling from their bins and being tracked through the warehouse by workers and mechanical devices. Even with the best slip-resistant work boots, a worker can be hurt after slipping on a crushed up banana, for example. Making matters worse, most large loading bays remain exposed to the elements. Since no roof is protecting the diesel trailer or docks in those facilities, rainwater, heavy fog, or melting snow can channel along the roof into the open trailer doors and drip to wooden flooring, making them very slippery.
And even when the docks completely enclose the trucks, their wet tries are still constantly tracking water into the loading ramps, making them slippery to a massive diesel rig and trailer. And even when ice or water is removed from the floor’s surface continuously, people still get hurt in the dock vicinity.
Poor lighting, along with inadequate handrails to grab onto, adds to the risks dockside workers face. As discussed, the trailer itself should be well lit before anyone is allowed inside. Falling merchandise and loose or shifted loads can easily fall onto a worker, causing a crush injury or death. And a lift driver could run a worker over without proper lighting.
Guardrails at areas people fall can magnify the number of accidents. In those cases, even when the edges of the dock are marked clearly with caution symbols, the only way to go is down.
Dangerous loading dock separation happens in many ways. As noted above, “early departure” and “trailer creep” can kill or maim. We rank it as number two in causes of severe injury and death for our substantial warehouse injury case intake handlers. The mechanism of injury involves a truck leaving the dock prematurely. The resulting void created can pull the ramp out from under a worker or forklift operator.
The National Safety Council (“NSC”) claims that there are $39,000 in medical costs and around $150,000 in property damage per forklift dockside accident. If you split it down the middle, that’s $75,000 in forklift repairs or replacements. Plus, another $75,000 goes to repair structures and buildings damaged in these catastrophes. We already discussed chronic vibration injuries from dock shock. But there are also more suddenly wrought-on accidents.
For example, as the forklift driver or laborer transitions from concrete to the metal bridge and back, any gaps or spaces in the ramp and platform can topple left or right. Most of all, this is a known cause for something to fall into the dark, tight truck ramp. Failure to maintain a level surface is a significant cause of terrible slips and falls, leading to head, neck, ankle, knee, elbow, should, and back injuries.
Manually loading or unloading a truck is always a safety challenge, requiring a quality safety program.
FACT: Yearly, 94,750 forklift-related injuries nationwide are reported. And out of this number, 7% of forklift accidents occur when a lift truck gets driven or flies off a loading bay dock. Sadly, of those figures, a full 70% of accidents reported were avoidable had precautionary safety measures been taken. (See also, “Towards Improved Forklift Safety Whitepaper,” www.nist.gov).
The time to put on your seat belt is not after you’ve been in a car accident. To safely drive a forklift, first, make sure restraints in place and that you have eye contact with the trucker. No one should be allowed to drive off.
To recap, often fatal, forklift fall-throughs at loading docks occur during loading or unloading. Sometimes, the heavy forklift’s momentum will transfer to the trailer. When that happens, the trailer will sometimes extend away from the dock leveler. So you can see how dangerous that can be.
Sometimes truckers, always on a tight schedule, believe the job is delivered, and they are clear to pull out and leave. But what happens if they are mistaken or just plain wrong? Leaving a loading dock prematurely is a known cause of many tragic forklift incidents. Imagine a truck pulling away as a forklift flies out the back, tumbling four or five feet, crashing to the asphalt?
Sometimes, forklift drivers will be ejected from the vehicle; sometimes, they are belted but try to escape a burning vehicle. Other times the forklift driver may be trying to get away before they were crushed by the truck or another oncoming forklift that was unable to slow in time to avoid falling over the side.
There are many ways forklifts can overturn. First off, the loadmaster or safety officer needs to make sure the pallets or items are light enough for the manufacturer’s load specifications. A smart business will assure each worker is equipped with restraints and a safety cage. These vehicles can still flip over or fall on their side in many ways. Load shifting inside of trailers, collapsing of levelers can cause a lift to fall over on its side, crushing anyone nearby, like a safety spotter, for example. As you can see, there are many ways a worker can be killed or wounded at truck docks.
Securing a trailer to the loading dock is only part of why vehicle restraints are preferred over wheel chocks. Communication between dock personnel and truck drivers is essential for maintaining safety in the loading dock, and wheel chocks do nothing in this area. Vehicle restraints often include light communication systems that know when the trailer is restrained and use interior and exterior lights to communicate this to the truck driver and dock personnel so loading or unloading can safely begin.
For store owners, there is also a slim chance that retrofitting restraints at your loading docks could get you lower insurance rates from your liability carrier, assuming you are not self-insured. We recommend contacting your insurance agent to find out. But either way, it’s still a business expense and well worth it.
There are many contraptions designed to restrain a big rig and keep it still and level during load-outs. Wheel chocks have been an industry standard for generations. OSHA has specific requirements aimed at preventing trailer/dock separation accidents as follows:
1910.178(k)(1): 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. 1910.178(m)(7): Brakes shall be set and wheel blocks shall be in place to prevent movement of trucks, trailers, or railroad cars while loading or unloading.
But there are also OSHA alternatives to wheel chocks to avoid trailer separations for loading docks.
. . . in light of the changes in technology since the promulgation of 29 CFR 1910.178(k)(1) and (m)(7), OSHA as a matter of policy will regard failure to use wheel chocks or blocks as a misdemeanor violation and no citation will be issued if alternative methods of preventing truck movement are used. These alternatives may include the use of dock lock mechanisms, dock monitoring systems, or other systems which will prevent the unintentional movement of trucks and trailers while being boarded with powered industrial trucks.
As you can see, these accidents are so common and such a big deal, dock personnel are required, and there is a whole industry designated towards developing better chocks and alternative lock dock mechanisms to prevent lurching or misleveling while loading. Truckers and safety workers should all know these basic rules.
When a big rig trucker backs up their trailer’s rear impact guard (RIG) or ICC bar, an automatic restraint will typically secure the RIG to the loading dock, similar to how train cars are connected. Once disengaged, the tractor can pull the trailer away. For whatever reasons, due to the above problems inherent in these cases, trucks are unaware there are people behind their rigs.
So as they are being guided into the docking bays, the rig could jolt forward, causing the driver to back up, unaware of the safety person there trying to level the trailer, for example. These are often fatal, especially to a child nearby, and if not, they will come with lifelong injuries.
Misaligned tracks, problems with cables, spring malfunctions, and sensor issues are just some of the potential issues surrounding the dock doors. Like with dock levelers, having a preventative plan, rather than a reactive one, will allow you to address issues before they become productivity-halting problems. If a worker or bystander is in the way, or his fingers get trapped in the chains, or roller mechanism, amputation, peeled back flesh, head injuries, crushed limbs, and death remain common.
Pulling away accidents is also horrific in their injury potential. Here, the truck’s towed trailer lurches back and forth, causing someone working in the back to fall into the gap created between the trailer’s ramp and loading bay. It happens when the rig’s diesel engine lurches backward, crushing a limb or whole person.
Exposure over many years to fumes and carbon monoxide can severely harm your respiratory system. Lung disease is always a potentially negative outcome when you don’t stand up for your legal rights. Calling a personal injury lawyer will help balance your life and protect you as well as your family.
Truck bays are portals leading to and from docking bays. Other equipment is used in tandem to safely and efficiently load and unload cargo once the trucks are docked. Factors that ensure the safe function of those pieces of equipment are relative to dock door displacements from each other and adequate staging space within the facility. Bottlenecks inside and outside facilities can result from poor planning and slow workers.
Often, management did not think about providing enough space for staging. So now you may have loads, and other items staged all over the yard. And this can cause blind spots and make it harder for work machines to get around safely, which lowers productivity. Outside the loading bay, there is an area called an apron. When there is not enough space there, staged trucks can’t get in or out of the facility safely.
Mirrors can get knocked off, and bicycle and motorcycle riders from their rides due to closeness in proximity to the trailers and rigs pulling in or out of the staging area. Workers can get crushed or pinched by a tractor.
Examples of Docking Bay Accidents and Injuries in Real Life:
California Code of Regulations, Title 8 Section 3336, “Loading Dock Operations” guidelines require employers to keep trucks and trailers from driving away from loading docks until loadings operation has been finalized. California Code of Regulations, Title 8, Section 3336. Loading Dock Operations states:
Shutting off engine and engage the break while loading or unloading vehicle.
Preventing trailer creep by using wheel chocks and vehicle restraints.
Painting the edges of the loading dock to improve visibility.
Providing physical barriers at dock edges when not in use.
Ensuring dock plates have appropriate capacity, stability, and proper placement.
Preventing employees from riding on material handling equipment.
Posting and enforcing speed limits for industrial trucks.
Making sure all personnel are trained in dock safety.
Providing adequate lighting at the dock and in trailers.
Shrink-wrapping loose product for transport or storage.
Maintaining good housekeeping and cleaning up the area regularly.
OSHA requires companies equipped with warehouse distribution facilities to teach workplace safety. The warehouse safety boss is tasked with either choking each truck or restraining each rig with an alternative device. The trucker’s only duty is to set their brake once the vehicle is docked, set, and locked. Also, wheel chocks must be applied firmly against the wheels closest to the dock.
Otherwise, they may fail to prevent trailer creep. So this requires more than lazily throwing the chock close to trailer wheels. No, it requires elbow grease to get the chocks fitted and snug. Of course, chunks of mud, sand, rocks, ice, crushed fruits, and vegetables greatly reduce the holding power wheel chocks offer. And inattentive, lazy, shiftless truck drivers have been known to reverse drive their powerful rigs and trailers over the wheel chocks as if they weren’t even there.
No matter what, early pull away is a threat that the dockmaster must control. Evaluating and developing operating procedures to increase general awareness and provide employee training and enforcement of safety practices can improve loading dock safety. (Source).
So most laborers at loading docks are worrisome about their financial futures. Many have records or are too old and not educated enough [in their minds] to do better for themselves. Warehouse conglomerates realize there is a high risk of on-the-job injuries. But many supervisors realize that workers are subservient to the company out of fear.
Even when people are disabled from previous accidents, these injured workers on light duty are forced under duress. In other words, bosses make disabled workers continue working on ladders and up in the racks. Many will still be using large machines and equipment while trucks are moving all around beneath, knowing an accident can happen again, at any time.
And even though employers are supposed to make sure high safety standards exist for the work environment, many companies place profits over people when minimizing loading bay injuries. As proactive as companies pretend to be, employees and employers workers can get badly hurt or killed instantly. And this is when work comp insurance kicks in to help.
But you need a decent lawyer to navigate the legal landmines associated with this complex and confusing area of employment law. Because it is a no-fault insurance program, workers’ compensation supposedly covers many items. But you need a trustworthy lawyer who can dedicate their efforts to getting you money from more than just work comp coverage.
We help victims with a docking bay accident that caused the following injuries:
As discussed, there are almost always other liable parties to contribute to the money pot for things like:
Most of all, once you need a loading bay accident attorney, valuable time to protect the statute of limitations will have already passed most of the time. The good news is, we act quickly to preserve evidence and get your case documented for a win. So once you sign the attorney-client retainer, we immediately take action.
After that, we stay in constant contact and attend to assist in the most intricate aspects of your legal case. That means we spend money to do an exhaustive case investigation. That way, we can make sure you get the maximum allowance under California negligence, as well as workman’s compensation laws. Most of all, we fight like Marines to get you the maximum compensation under the law for your tragic personal injuries.
Were you or a loved one seriously harmed during the docking process to deliver goods and things? If so, we offer a free initial personal injury case consultation so you can speak with a credible and honest lawyer. That way, you can get an opinion about your case from a Los Angeles, California personal injury lawyer. So go ahead and call Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC, before it’s too late to protect your legal rights.
Call (213) 596-9642 now, or use our convenient online contact us form. We have convenient physical locations in Torrance, Downtown Los Angeles, California, and meeting places up and down the California Coast. And we come to you if need be. No matter what, we make it happen! Se Habla Español!
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