Risk ramped up

5 mins read

Loading bays – or goods in and out areas – are one of the most common places for workplace accidents.

An accident hotspot is how the Health and Safety Executive has described loading and unloading operations. It's hardly surprising: while many other areas in the factory and warehouse are often brimming with sophisticated high-tech equipment to make and move goods with less and less human input, the loading and unloading operation is one where man and machine come together to move product in and out of storage as quickly as possible – sometimes with disastrous consequences. The term loading bay may conjure up rows of uniform, pristine bays in vast distribution centres – a sight often seen from motorways – but it's far from the real picture seen in manufacturing sites across the country. Here, delivery lorries are vying for space with vehicles being loaded, forklift trucks moving goods around, not to mention site workers crossing the yard. Indeed, this mix of vehicles in a confined yard is just the issue faced by Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems, in Broadstairs. A former Best Factory Award winner, the business has gone from strength to strength in the last few years, expanding its offer from traditional screen inks to digital ink products – with the ensuing boost to sales putting site space at a premium. Take its loftily titled international logistics centre, where finished stock from the adjacent factory is housed. Screen and digital printing ink products arrive in a multitude of container sizes – from 1 litre pouches to 200 litre drums and even 1 tonne totes. The pouches, drums, kegs and container loads are all produced on site and taken across to the logistics centre by one of two counterbalance forklifts, before being unloaded and put into storage by a crew of 16 warehouse operators, led by Paul Hill. The logistics centre also houses the packaging warehouse, where up to 60 pallets are unloaded from each arriving vehicle. Hill also looks after the goods-out area, where finished goods are loaded and exported to 86 countries. Up to four container loads a day are filled here, each of which is put on to a loading ramp outside the goods-out door, manned only by authorised individuals trained for that specific operation. Hill explains that, while Fujifilm still has a qualified banksman, this is a role called upon less frequently these days: "Banksmen are not required as often now, but if a driver has any concerns at all, we will call for the banksman straight away. Drivers all have different demands for how their container is loaded." Keeping visiting drivers and other pedestrians out of harm's way is the number one priority for Fujifilm. Chocks are placed under the wheels of arriving vehicles and drivers stay in their cabs until the last pallets are being loaded, at which point they are escorted out to check the load and sign off paperwork. "Like other sites, we don't like any more people to be in the yard than is absolutely necessary," says Hill. "That's definitely the biggest risk. It's a very busy area, with trailers being loaded, forklift trucks and courier vehicles coming and going, as well as trucks for one of our distributors Bibby Distribution, which also works from the site. The fewer people there are, the less chance of any accidents occurring." It's a formula that works for Fujifilm: Hill says there have been no accidents in the 10 years he has worked there. An exemplary record. Hill and his team are not complacent, though. A recent risk assessment has highlighted the potential for improvement if a one-in, one-out system was adopted for lorries arriving at the site. So he is considering implementing this to keep each delivery vehicle out on the road until the previous one has departed. Equipment upkeep There's an array of equipment designed to lessen risk and increase productivity in and around loading areas. Specialist suppliers include the likes of Transdek, Sara Loading Bay, Stertil Stokvis and Thorworld Industries. Some items, like vehicle chocks, are simple but highly effective, and require little or no maintenance. Other types of vehicle restraints are more sophisticated, as are traffic light systems to tell the driver when to pull away (particularly useful if you have foreign drivers on site), key control equipment and loading ramps and docks. Once installed, it's vital to ensure that the kit is correctly maintained. In these straitened times, companies may be relying on older equipment, rather than dipping into the investment pot. Thorworld Industries' MD John Meale says it's more important than ever, in this case, to commit to a rigorous maintenance programme. Inspection by a competent person and preventive maintenance go hand in hand at safe sites. Many rely on the former, says Meale, but too many are unaware of the legal requirements. "We've seen recently that companies are going to local inspectors, who are untrained in the specification of certain types of loading bay equipment. As a result, they are inspecting and certifying some equipment under the wrong regulations, and missing crucial safety features." Confusion may arise, he says, because while one regulation applies to all forms of machinery in Europe, here in the UK there are two regulations covering different aspects. The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) applies to all equipment used at work; and equipment used to lift or lower loads, or people, is also subject to the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER). "Too many inspectors are unaware of the differences, and are therefore inspecting equipment used in a loading bay incorrectly," claims Meale. "For example, yardramps and dock levellers are classified as bridging devices, so aren't regulated by LOLER. Make sure you seek out competent people who know the equipment, and can appreciate the often subtle distinctions between what is required by LOLER and by PUWER, and how to apply this in practice." Top tips RoSPA is well known for its lobbying might, promoting accident prevention for every walk of life, but the organisation also offers advice to industry, including through its workplace transport consultancy service. Workplace safety manager Rob Burgon offers his thoughts on five of the key issues for loading/unloading operations:
  1. Training "All personnel operating in and around vehicles must be competent," he says. "Competence is measured by SKATE – skills, knowledge, attitude, training and experience." Those affected could be drivers, banksmen, other site staff, visitors, contractors, even members of the public.
  2. Supervision Site rules mean nothing if they are not enforced. This doesn't mean badgering people incessantly – enforcement is often better applied through monitoring and coaching or buddying. "When people don't adhere to site rules, there must be enforcement in the form of discipline and/or extra training, because this is a high-risk environment," urges Burgon.
  3. Equipment and vehicles All equipment and vehicles must be fit for purpose and, as Burgon reminds us, "must be regularly checked and maintained in accordance with manufacturers' guidelines or with planned preventive maintenance schedules".
  4. Visiting drivers Many of the vehicle drivers may be unfamiliar with the site layout and rules, so you need a rigorous system to ensure they are not put at risk. "Ensure drivers report to the relevant person, site security or main office, depending on the size of the organisation," Burgon advises, "and that they understand the site rules – and follow them."
  5. Environment Without the luxury of purpose-built distribution centres, it's even more vital that manufacturers ensure loading and unloading take place in a safe, flat area – not an uneven, pothole-filled area where forklift trucks could be at risk of tipping over, or ramps unsteady on the ground. "Also, segregation of pedestrians and equipment or vehicles is essential – preferably by physical means, such as barriers or identifiable safe routes," adds Burgon.