You’ve probably heard that the world has a “new normal” thanks to the coronavirus, but what does that mean? It means that much of what used to be normal in life is not normal anymore. Many things have changed. In the U.S. we’re all being asked to stay home except for essential work/travel and maintain a distance of at least six feet from people we encounter when we leave our homes. Some people are living with additional restrictions. This new normal exists to help keep us safe, but we all look forward to the end of this challenging time.
There’s a new normal in the loading dock equipment industry too, and just like the new normal in our daily lives, it’s all about keeping people safe. The difference is that the new normal in the loading dock equipment industry is something to celebrate.
Not long ago, dock levelers were the main reason someone with a loading dock would call their distributor. Other types of dock equipment were considered supplementary. But forklift accidents at loading docks are always bad, especially forklift fall-through, and can be very expensive. About 21 forklift accidents occur at loading docks every day.1 Over time, more companies are realizing the necessity of preventing forklift fall-through accidents. Over the last five years, vehicle restraint sales growth has been about 33% higher than dock leveler sales growth. In 2019, leveler sales growth was virtually flat across the industry, but restraint sales growth continued to rise. Dock levelers are no longer the only type of dock equipment distributors are taking calls for. Vehicle restraints are more popular than ever, and the data shows us that this growing concern for safety is the new normal in our industry.
We should celebrate this because every vehicle restraint installed at a loading dock could save a life. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that anyone involved in an accident where a forklift falls from one level to another is about 250% more likely to die than be injured.2 That statistic should raise eyebrows in our industry because falling from one level to another is exactly what happens in a forklift fall-through accident.
If you’re not familiar with forklift fall-through, here’s an explanation: Forklifts working in loading docks spend countless hours driving across dock levelers to load and unload trailers. When the momentum of forklift activity pushes a trailer too far from the dock, or a driver pulls the trailer away from the dock before loading or unloading is complete, the dock leveler lip can fall out of the trailer and a forklift can drop into the gap between the trailer and the dock. This is called forklift fall-through and it means the forklift has fallen from one level (the loading dock) to another level (the ground).
Another safety aspect to consider at a loading dock is a barrier to prevent forklifts from driving off the edge if the overhead door is left open without a trailer present. In recent years, OSHA implemented a new rule, 29 CFR 1910.26, that will “impose new requirements on employers who operate loading docks to either equip dockboards with run-off guards or to demonstrate that there is no hazard of transfer vehicles from running off the dockboard edge.” Sufficient safety barriers can consist of bars or gates that are lowered in front of the overhead door, or barrier lips added to a leveler that extend several inches up above the dock plate when the leveler is stored.
If this new normal is such a good thing, what does it mean for the industry?
If you’re a dock equipment distributor, it’s critical to understand the importance of loading dock safety and make sure you’re prepared to talk about vehicle restraints and other safety equipment with your customers. Even though more companies understand the importance of vehicle restraints at the loading dock, there are surprisingly still plenty of objections to getting vehicle restraints installed on every loading dock. Sometimes it’s a financial objection, and you can help educate your customer on the costs they will incur if they DO have a forklift fall-through accident. Those costs are far higher than the cost of installing vehicle restraints in their loading docks, and of course the worst part is that someone got hurt. As a distributor, you can help prevent that from happening.
If you own or manage loading docks or are responsible for safety at a company with loading docks, it’s time to plan for installing vehicle restraints and other safety equipment. It’s true that the cost can be a challenge, but the new normal means more businesses are realizing that vehicle restraints are worth the cost. It’s a shrewd business decision, because if you experience a forklift fall-through accident, the chances of that driver being injured are high, while the chances he or she will die are even higher. Once you get past the costs of having an injured employee, equipment and building damage, product damage or spoilage, and the inevitable OSHA penalties, you need to consider the probability of a very expensive lawsuit.
If you cringe when you see or hear the term “new normal” in the news, I encourage you to remember that not every new normal is negative. The new normal we’re experiencing in loading dock safety will help save more lives every year for as long as people are driving forklifts to load and unload trailers, and that is a very good thing.