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Prioritising safety in the loading bay

Employee safety is paramount in every industry. For logistics operations juggling unprecedented customer demand with significant numbers of new employees, safety is now a major business issue – especially in high-risk areas such as the loading bay. 

According to Great Britain’s health and safety body, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are 13 fatalities and 26,000 non-fatal injuries per year within the UK transportation and storage industry. And with a high percentage of accidents happening in or around the loading bay, it is considered one of the most dangerous areas.

As Wouter Satijn, Sales Director at Joloda Hydraroll, explains, continually reviewing, improving and implementing the best working practices, while also promoting employee well-being, is the key to optimising logistics operations and getting more goods on the road...

Escalating Safety Concerns

The transportation sector has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. Consumer demand has accelerated across industries, with world trade in goods and services amounting to US $22 trillion in 2020.  At the heart of every logistics operation lies the loading bay. As thousands of new logistics drivers and packers take up newly created roles to keep up with demands, it’s more important than ever for employers to understand the challenges involved in logistics and in the safe loading and unloading of goods.

Of course, this is a highly regulated industry: logistics operations must adhere to strict health and safety regulations. But a good working environment is also key to employee morale, which is a crucial factor in retention. With higher than usual levels of staff turnover, ensuring everyone understands the dangers is vital.  This is especially important in working environments using heavy machinery to move large packages and products, or where hazardous materials are being unloaded or loaded. Accidents can easily happen, especially in the loading bay – so how can businesses identify and mitigate these risks?

What are the Risks?

The economic cost of workplace injury is estimated at more than £800m. The challenge for logistics operations is the diversity of both the risks and causes of injury. For example, falls off the edge of the dock can be a result of slippery floors, a lack of removable barriers or distractions. Heavy machinery can fall forward if wheels are not properly chocked. And poor communication from drivers – or engines left on during the loading process – can also lead to injury. In addition, these procedural errors can create other dangers, such as gaps opening between vehicles and loading bays.

Organisations can overcome these risks by implementing robust safety practices across the loading area – and the first place to start is identifying dangers.

Risk Analysis

A comprehensive risk analysis is essential. Indeed it is a legal requirement. This robust process should determine the specific threats within the organisation’s loading bay(s). Taking a walk around the space and considering what employees will be doing day-to-day can quickly highlight potential dangers. Are floors kept clear? Are there any overhead electric cables and, if so, is there any risk of a chance touch or electricity jumping to ‘earth’ through machinery, loads, or people?

It is also important to review recent health and safety incidents to identify particular problems that are occurring. This helps to understand the risks from an employee perspective. What tasks are they struggling to complete safely? Are the same injuries occurring frequently? Forklift truck usage is one area of particular concern – on average, they are involved in about a quarter of all workplace transport accidents. 

Having determined current safety issues, the next step is to introduce appropriate mechanical solutions for safety, warning signs, training, and electrical safety.

Automated Loading Systems 

With so many injuries caused by the use of equipment such as forklift trucks, it is well worth considering the role loading systems can play in improving workforce safety. Automated loading systems are built to speed up a standard process that happens in every production and warehousing location – the 45 minutes it takes to unload using a forklift takes under five minutes with an automated system. By removing the use of forklifts, companies immediately reduce the risk to employees, improving safety.

Adding further automation will also significantly improve both efficiency and employee well-being. By connecting the entire auto-loading docks and unloading docks to a conveyor or autonomous guided vehicles (AGV), the complete loading procedure can be de-manned. This 100% automation is, by default, far safer as no manual intervention is required.

Safety Starts with Employees

Human error is one of the main causes of injury in loading bays and other areas of logistics facilities. Indeed, one employee’s mistake can make the entire environment unsafe. To avoid injury, organisations must provide staff with the right training, including the correct use of equipment and safe behaviour.

Regular training and education for employees working within the loading bay should cover a range of issues. This includes the prevention of chronic or acute injury through incorrect lifting methods; the correct way to secure cargo when loading; and the safe removal of secured cargo when unloading the truck.

Good signage is also important to support employees as they move around the loading bay. For example, marking ‘danger zones’ ensures individuals know where to go, such as avoiding loading dock edges. Signage helps to direct traffic flow correctly, too. Additional signage reminding drivers to turn off engines is key to avoid the build-up of poisonous carbon monoxide in the loading bay area. Providing weight rating signs on each element of the loading bay equipment will remind employees of the weight limits in place, avoiding dangerous overloading situations. 

Additionally, it is worth reminding people that loading bays must remain tidy and clear of hazards at all times. Small pieces of packaging can get stuck in machinery and pose a trip hazard; while even small spills can have significant ramifications, with oil spills requiring special attention. For experienced individuals, additional signage may feel unnecessary but with the considerable number of new employees entering the logistics industry, providing clear, up to date information is essential. It will help to improve safety and, equally important, add confidence and boost morale for new members of the workforce.

Conclusion 

Efficient loading bays are core to the success of any logistics operation. But these hubs of activity can be not only incredibly inefficient, but also extremely hazardous. Automation is increasingly important for any business today to transform productivity, improve efficiency and to demonstrate that health and safety comes first. This means improving end-to-end automation to reduce the manual activity required by employees, as well as implementing stringent safety processes and giving all staff appropriate, timely training.

The benefits are tangible. Automation improves effectiveness and also creates a safe and healthy workforce. Creating the right working environment not only improves employee morale – which is key to retention – but also contributes to greater productivity, ensuring the business meets demand and builds a satisfied, committed customer base.

OPINION: Employee safety in the logistics industry starts with data collection and analysis

Logistics organisations are under unprecedented pressure to improve not only efficiency, but also employee safety. The COVID-19-inspired spike in demand has highlighted endemic performance problems and created new workplace challenges; how can companies recruit and retain staff in a highly competitive market when the transport and storage industry exhibits a higher rate of injury at all levels of severity compared to other sectors?

Digital transformation provides a chance to improve efficiency, reduce costs and enhance responsiveness to customers, and transform the day-to-day experience for employees. This can only be achieved, however, if organisations get the right data collection and analysis solutions in place that quickly and effectively deliver new insight to logistics teams, explains Peter Ruffley (pictured), CEO, Zizo, and Ian Brown, CEO, Excelpoint…

Data Capture Challenge

While there are many technologies associated with digital transformation, in essence it is about data; using data to both automate processes and gain better understanding to drive business improvement.  

For many organisations, however, that simple statement is the stumbling point. What data is required? Where is it located? How is it accessed? Can it be used in combination with other sources? Is there any contextual information? How often does it change? 

The first question, of course, is: how can data be collected? For warehouse operations still reliant upon many manual, even paper-based processes, data collection is complex and time consuming. It can require significant effort to entice any insight from systems – information which is then out of date in this fast moving environment.  Inefficiencies remain unchecked and safety risks ignored.

Extracting Value

Achieving fast, effective data capture is a priority. No-code automation software that can be configured into a range of solutions for business-critical processes can quickly improve access to information, eliminating the need for multiple inputs across numerous systems. Such software helps businesses to streamline the way they manage people, systems and information, in turn, improving the workforce’s welfare, achieving flexibility and significant cost savings. 

For example, from a safety perspective, simple, automated solutions for logging, recording and resolving incidents can both ensure Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) compliance and provide vital insight to ensure the incident is not repeated in the future; while automated safetyaudits create a structured process where information driven insights support employee safety while meeting compliance regulations. 

In addition, the deployment of sensors or wearable devices, connecting to an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform or at the edge, can very quickly deliver new business insights.  For example, data from smart controls, such as loading docks, blind intersections and door openings can be used for operational improvements, as well as ensuring employees are safe and following protocols. 

Employee Safety

With a holistic overview of operations, logistics managers gain confidence to make better decisions regarding both performance and employee well-being.  Workforces can identify areas where incidents could happen, highlighting risks before an accident occurs. In addition, information gathered from wearable devices can pick up an individual’s lifting techniques, body temperatures, heart rate or distance travelled in the workplace – providing managers with the ability to intervene in any unsafe practices in real-time.

This insight also creates a unified picture of what is happening across the factory or warehouse by highlighting patterns of behaviour that previously may have been undetectable, information that can be used within a feedback loop to drive continual improvements. For example, employees can be offered specific interactive and data-driven training – which will not only enhance employee wellbeing, but also improve employee productivity, in turn, increasing their satisfaction. 

This is crucial as, according to the Health and Safety Executive, ‘training helps people acquire the skills, knowledge and attitudes to make them competent in the health and safety aspects of their work.’ Such programmes, driven by data-insight, can ensure that individuals performing a task have the competence to do so without putting the health and safetyof others or themselves at risk.

Conclusion

Good employees are hard to find right now. For an industry experiencing a significantly higher number of safety incidents – for example forklift accidents account for approximately 85 deaths and 34,900 serious injuries each year – more must be done to both improve the operational risk environment and create tailored employee training and education. 

Furthermore, employee safety is a great place to kick off a digital transformation programme. With wearables and no-code solutions, the process is simple and creates zero disruption; and the insight is both immediate and accessible for logistics staff. Critically, it builds confidence in the value of data amongst logistics teams, accelerating their commitment to transformation and helping to create an appetite for data driven change.

Once businesses realise the benefits and can see the impact, such as better employee safety, warehouse managers will begin to question what else they can do. What else can be improved? What else can be changed for the better? And this is the foundation to driving the digital transformation.