Trucking – Loading & Unloading Trailers #1

Safely loading, or unloading, trucks and trailers

A dangerous operations involving lift trucks is the loading or unloading trucks and trailers. The danger is greatest when moving from the stable, concrete floor of a warehouse to an unstable truck or traile. Not only may the vehicle be unstable, but the means of going from the warehouse to the vehicle (by way of a dock plate) can be hazardous. The following rules are best practices and should be adhered to at all times.

Rule #1—Set the brakes

The first rule is to be sure that the brakes are set on the vehicle to be unloaded. This could range from air brakes or spring-loaded brakes on larger semi-trailers to hand brakes on other vehicles. Generally the driver of the over-the-road truck will be the person that sets the brakes, but, as with all other rules listed here, it is the forklift operator’s responsibility to check that the safety rules have been carried out.

Rule #2—Secure the vehicle to the dock

Second, it’s a good idea to secure the vehicle to the loading dock by the use of wheel chocks or a mechanical dock locking system. By using wheel chocks or a dock-lock system, the trailer or truck is prevented from moving forward whenever the operator drives the forklift into the trailer and slams on its brakes to pick up or deposit a load. This rocking motion caused by the lift truck’s braking action can cause semi-trailers and other trucks to creep forward, even if the vehicle brakes are set.

Rule #3—Install the dockboard or plate

After the vehicle restraint system is in place, install and check the dockboard. This metal plate makes a ramp between the warehouse floor and the trailer floor. After installation of the dockboard, the operator should walk out on it to make that it overlaps the trailer sufficiently and that the trailer is square with the unloading area so that the dockboard fits uniformly on the trailer.

Rule #4—Check the condition of the trailer floor

Once the dockplate is secure, the forklift operator should check the condition of the bed of the vehicle to be driven onto. If the bed of the trailer has weak, rotten, or otherwise unsafe areas on it, do not drive on it! Many accidents, including injuries and fatalities, have occurred because the forklift operator did not check the floor condition prior to driving on to it.

A lightweight pallet jack may have to be used to load or unload trailers if floor conditions warrant that the heavier weight lift truck stay out of the trailer.

Rule #5—Determine if the semi-trailer is still attached

If the tractor has been removed and the trailer is to be loaded or unloaded, place supports or jackstands under the nose of the trailer to prevent it from upending. Upending can occur if a heavy load is being placed in the nose of the trailer that has the tractor removed.

Rule #6—Check the lighting

Check to be sure that there is adequate lighting before driving into a semi-trailer or other vehicle. If the light is poor, turn on and position the loading dock lights. If the lift truck has lights, turn them on also.

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