Loading Dock Accidents Are Entirely Preventable

Michael GrossmanOctober 14, 2015 4 minutes

It's often said that complacency causes injuries. People let their guard down, or they stop following rules they know they should follow and someone gets hurt. But perhaps the worst example of this is when people talk about highly preventable accidents as if they're some phenomenon that's destined to occur, and there's no way around it. In particular, it bugs me when people talk about loading dock injuries as if that's just how factories work. Here's the thing: in the 21st century, there are many technological advancements that can completely solve the problem of loading dock related accidents.

A Story That Illustrates the Problem:

To add some perspective to this topic of discussion, consider a case that my firm litigated. A couple of years ago, a gentleman was working on a loading dock for a large poultry plant. An unlicensed driver was operating a tractor-trailer and he ran over a co-worker, crushing that co-worker to death beneath the trailer's wheels, as he reversed into the factory loading area.

We launched a very thorough investigation to get to the bottom of what happened, including numerous depositions, witness statements, physical inspection of the premises, measurements taken of the inclination (or grade) of the road leading into the dock, etc. When we had all of that evidence at our disposal, it became incredibly clear what happened. Employees standing inside the garage loading bay area were in a brightly lit room. Trucks that backed into the said room were approaching from a poorly lit parking lot. Consequently, workers couldn't see the vehicle until it was poking its tail into the loading dock area. The trucks used by this company had an audible reverse warning (the standard beep beep backup alarm) that ostensibly served to warn people inside the dock of an approaching vehicle. The problem was that the ambient noise in the building was so loud due to all of the machinery that workers all wore eat protection. This rendered the backup alarm useless. But, even if the workers had not been wearing ear protection, and even if the ambient noise in the plant was not incredibly loud, the backup alarm would still have proven to be insufficient, since the speaker was attached to the cab of the truck, not to the rear of the trailer. So, as the trailer is being backed into the bay, the speaker is effectively blocked by the trailer.

As if those issues were not enough, right outside the garage bay door the ground sloped down dramatically and then sloped back up again toward he main section of the parking lot. The driveway was apparently shaped this way for drainage reasons, but the result was that there was sort of a v-shaped valley that reversing trucks had to drive through to get into the loading area. As you can imagine, reversing a truck at low speed meant that one would easily get the trailer's rear wheels stuck in this valley if they accelerated too slowly. So, the workaround became that trucker would be backed into the garage quite quickly in order to not get their rear wheels stuck.

All of these factors coalesced resulting in a scenario where Jim could neither see nor hear the vehicle coming toward him, and due to the aforementioned valley, the truck had to reverse rapidly, lest the wheels get stuck. So, even if Jim could have spotted the truck at the last second, it was going WAY too fast for him to have done anything about it.

As you can see, there are a number of things that the employer could have done differently that would have eliminated the accident from happening altogether.

How Technology Can Help

While we've handled many other loading dock-related accidents. The example above wherein Jim lost his life really exemplifies one of the worst case scenarios that can exist in that environment. Yet even under those extreme circumstances, there was a technological solution that would have made that accident entirely preventable. Many companies sell relatively inexpensive detection and alert systems that do an outstanding job of warning the reversing driver to the presence of pedestrians as well as alerting pedestrians to the presence of reversing drivers.

The way they do this is through a series of optical sensors that work a lot like the door chimes that many retail stores use to alert them to the presence of a customer who was walked into their store. When a truck is approaching a danger zone, these systems emit an incredibly loud warning alarm that will make a specific tone distinct from all the other factory noises. But just in case the factory noises are too loud or workers are wearing hearing protection, a series of strobe lights--much like those you'd find connected to a fire alarm--will flash above the garage bay door that the truck is driving through. Systems like these will eliminate 99% of the problems, and the remaining 1% can be addressed through due diligence and a little bit and foresight and planning on behalf of management.

If this were 1985, then sure, maybe there's some legitimacy to the argument that loading dock accidents are something that comes with the territory. But in the year 2015, there's really no excuse for an employer not taking these inexpensive proactive steps, and the law certainly says that they should be liable for failing to protect workers from such an obvious and well known hazard.