Best Practices for Warehouse Loading and Unloading


Best Practices for Warehouse Loading and Unloading

Efficiency when loading and unloading docks is critical for high productivity throughout an entire warehouse. Even minor delays at the docks can cause the rest of warehouse operations to grind to a halt. Prioritizing speed and safety in planning dock operations allows warehouse managers to unlock massive gains in throughput and improve their bottom line.

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The Value of A Streamlined Warehouse Loading and Unloading Procedure

Operations at the loading dock set the tone for warehouse and logistics efficiency. Streamlined truck loading and unloading procedures reduce the amount of time workers, drivers, and products spend waiting in the area.

For example, when truck drivers arrive at a prepared loading dock, they can spend less time waiting for employees to load or unload products before getting back on the road. Loading and unloading trucks safely and efficiently, then, is essential for reducing delivery time. Plus, starting the entire trip with faster loading minimizes the chances trucks will set out late. 

Reduce Loading Time

Dock operations also have a significant impact on warehouse operations. Unloading times set the pace for products moving around the warehouse, as the faster products move off the truck, the faster workers can sort and stock them. And during hectic times when products take a through route from unloading docks directly to the loading area, delays at either end can disrupt order timelines.

The bottom line is that crews working at loading and unloading docks must operate at peak efficiency with support from a well-orchestrated warehouse team to support faster turnaround times and improve the customer experience.

9 Loading and Unloading Best Practices 

Creating highly efficient docks enables the entire facility to become more productive. Certain best practices address these and other key factors of operational efficiency:

  • Worker movement patterns around docks
  • Communication between drivers and workers
  • Safety measures to reduce injuries and setbacks

Improving these factors helps reduce time wasted due to inefficient operations so managers can boost their bottom line and their warehouse's reputation.

1. Examine Inventory Flow Around the Warehouse 

Evaluate the efficiency of product movement around the docks. Workers must prepare loads for shipping by having the products picked and prepared before the truck arrives. Good inventory management in the warehouse means pickers will find the products they need in their proper places, reducing delays in fulfilling orders. Faster order fulfillment prevents problems such as trucks waiting at the loading dock for goods from shipping to complete preparation for loading. 

Inventory management also impacts how quickly goods get off the dock and into the receiving area. If workers cannot get products stored swiftly, the receiving part of the warehouse may fill with inventory and back up into the unloading docks. This excessive volume of inventory awaiting storage can prevent employees unloading trucks from working efficiently or finding space to put the products. 

2. Implement Safety Measures to Prevent Incidents 

Loading and unloading docks present different worker hazards from those in the rest of the warehouse, which also means they require unique safety measures. 

Some examples of steps that can prevent incidents include:

  • Trailer creep: Trailer restraints are more effective than chocks at preventing trucks from moving forward without warning. They lock the trailer in place and can connect to a control panel for release. 
  • Trucks driving away: Require drivers to turn their keys over to someone in charge of the docks to prevent them from driving off before the loading and unloading crews can complete their jobs. 
  • Slipping on water: Covering the area with weather-resistant canopies prevents slipping hazards and helps protect workers from intense heat.
  • Falling cargo: Barriers and warnings help protect workers from getting hit by falling cargo.

Putting these and other safety features in place reduces the potential for incidents causing injuries or delays.

3. Install Dock Lights for Communication 

Install dock lights

Quick, accurate communication with dock workers saves time — and installing dock lights is an excellent way to improve that communication. For example, dock lights alert workers to approaching trucks and let workers know when it's safe to open the trailer door on a truck that has restraints. Lights can also alert drivers when the crew has finished their work, reducing the risk of vehicle-related accidents. 

Digital signs convey even more specific information about incoming trucks, such as arrival time and load contents. These signs provide crews with the information they need to prepare for a swift loading or unloading operation

4. Put Barrier Gates Around Docks 

Falls are one of the most prominent causes of workplace injuries and fatalities across all industries, according to data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Leaving loading and unloading docks unprotected can contribute to the overall risk of incidents, which is why managers should consider installing protective barriers in a facility. 

For example, barrier gates can reduce fall injuries around the docks by preventing workers from accidentally stepping off elevated platforms or falling onto equipment operating below. Some gate models also connect to lights for better communication of hazardous areas outside the barriers. 

5. Improve Lighting Around Docking Areas 

Although it may seem like a minor consideration, installing brighter lighting around docking areas can improve safety and efficiency by:

  • Revealing hazards: Slips, trips, and falls caused 865 workplace fatalities in 2022, which is a marked increase from the previous year. Improving lighting at warehouse truck loading and unloading docks illuminates hazards that workers would otherwise be unable to see, reducing the risk of injury.
  • Preventing collisions: Road conditions or other delays can result in trucks arriving later than anticipated, which often means unloading in dim lighting. Upgrading dock lighting helps make employees more visible, which can help prevent collisions.
  • Boosting productivity: Bright lights at the docking areas enable managers to extend warehouse operating hours, which can increase the number of trucks workers can load and unload. Processing more inventory may result in higher profits, depending on other expenses.

6. Protect the Loading Area From Hail and Extreme Heat 

The weather can thwart even the best efforts to quickly and efficiently load and unload trucks. Here's how covering the area can help alleviate some of the safety issues that impact efficiency:

  • Protecting against falls: Shielding the area from elements like hail minimizes the chances of slip-and-fall accidents. It can also prevent cargo from getting damaged as a result of falls.
  • Preventing product damage: In addition to falls, environmental hazards like hail or snow can damage cargo and create problems in profits, customer satisfaction, and final deliveries when products need reordering. Additionally, a shaded dock blocks direct sunlight and keeps temperatures low, protecting products against sun damage.
  • Preventing heat illness: Preventing extreme heat conditions using dock canopies can reduce the number of breaks workers require to protect themselves from heat-related illnesses. As with all situations where workers could experience heat stress, though, they need access to fresh water and locations to cool themselves if they begin to feel sick from the heat. 

Benefits of Covering Work Areas

7. Regularly Clean and Maintain the Dock Area

Keeping the docking area clean and well-maintained reduces clutter that could slow down workers’ efforts to load or unload trucks or create tripping hazards. Maintenance tasks should include clearing away debris and unnecessary items, checking the integrity of all equipment, and verifying that communications lights work. A cleaner dock area reduces slowdowns that harm efficiency. 

8. Train All Employees Working in the Area on Dock Safety and Operations 

Workers need to know what their jobs require and how to do them safely. Training includes information on safely working around the loading and unloading areas, correct lifting and moving procedures, equipment use, communicating with others, and properly securing cargo. 

When workers know exactly what to do and how to do their jobs safely, they waste less time asking for guidance and can spend more time getting to their assigned tasks. By working with safety in mind, they also reduce their chances of injury from strained muscles, falls, or other accidents. 

9. Always Use Dock Levelers for Enhanced Safety 

The trailer and loading dock height does not remain uniform throughout the loading or unloading process. As the trailer takes on more weight through loading, it will sink lower. When unloading goods, the trailer raises. 

Dock levelers help prevent the change in height from creating a tripping hazard, keeping workers and products safer. These pieces create a smooth transition that covers the gap between the dock and the trailer, regardless of how the trailer moves. 

Benefits of an Efficient Warehouse

Benefits of an Efficient Warehouse

Streamlining operations throughout a warehouse can improve docking procedures and productivity in many ways, such as:

  • Better organization: Ensuring that workers are ready to accept new inventory reduces the buildups of products in the docking area, which gets products to shelves faster — and quickly getting products in their proper place helps pickers find what they need quicker.
  • Reduced labor needs: Efficient operation throughout the warehouse reduces the total number of people needed to keep the facility operating, which lessens the need to take dock workers from their jobs to fill positions elsewhere in the facility.
  • Fewer delays: Improving warehouse coordination helps reduce the amount of time wasted in product preparation and order fulfillment, which can improve on-time delivery rates.
  • Improved customer satisfaction: Loading and unloading more trucks on time reduces the risk of late deliveries, which can help improve the customer experience. 

Benefits of warehouse efficiency

Tips for Optimizing Warehouse Efficiency

Highly efficient warehouse operations reduce delays in removing products from the unloading dock and getting them to the loading area. Wasting less time to move products to and from the docks prevents trucks from needlessly waiting at the docking area and losing time en route to their delivery destinations. 

To improve efficiency, a warehouse should automate as many operations as possible. Examples of automation include:

  • Providing workers with barcode readers to verify picked orders.
  • Installing conveyor belts to reduce travel for order retrieval.
  • Using automated vehicles to deliver products to the shipping area.

Finding ways to implement automated technology reduces the number of people needed for jobs and lessens the wear those workers experience while doing their jobs.

Additionally, the loading dock should have a protected area where prepared orders await a truck's arrival for immediate loading. In warehouses with separate loading and unloading docking areas, each dock should have its crew to expedite the movement of goods onto or off the truck. 

How Loading Dock Canopies May Improve Efficiency 

Improving efficiency during loading and unloading includes keeping those working in the docking areas protected. Safety is an essential part of efficiency because sick or injured workers require time off, and a facility may not have extra people to fill in for them. The reduced staff members at the loading and unloading areas face potential delays due to their lower numbers. 

Preventing Injuries and Illness 

Another concern for safety at the loading dock involves investigations into injuries or illnesses. The time and space needed for dock operations instead goes toward those looking into the incident and why it happened. The facility operator may need to make changes to improve safety at the dock, which can also contribute to delays. 

Dock canopies can prevent safety issues. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), those working in strenuous, physically demanding jobs have the highest risks of developing heat-related illnesses. The effort these workers put into their jobs raises their core body temperature, which combines with outdoor weather conditions to elevate the risk of illnesses like heat exhaustion and heatstroke. 

Some environmental contributors to heat illness include:

  • Outdoor temperature.
  • Physical effort.
  • Humidity.
  • Air movement.
  • Radiant heat from direct sunlight.

By keeping the docking area covered, dock canopies control outdoor heat by lowering temperatures by up to 30 degrees and reducing radiant heat from the sun. Lowered temperatures at the dock help keep workers better protected from heat illnesses.

Protecting Products From Damage

Products requiring temperature-controlled environments can experience heat damage when left sitting on the dock uncovered. On the other extreme, inclement weather like hail and snow can cause physical and water damage — and either way, warehouse managers are left with financial losses. 

Installing weather-resistant dock canopies can improve the bottom line by protecting products against the environment. That said, it's important to choose high-quality loading dock canopies from a reliable company like VPS.

The Key to Boosting Warehouse Efficiency

For example, VPS is the only producer of snow-loading structural covers capable of withstanding 30 pounds per square foot (psf) and greater. Other options include solid membranes that use various patterned fabrics for hail protection and solar hail protection that generates power through solar panels while protecting docks from the elements.

Ultimately, the key to boosting warehouse efficiency is creating safer docks for both workers and products. Employees will be protected against workplace risks like heat illness and injury, and goods can safely occupy loading docks without suffering damage from hail and ice. As a result, managers can keep work moving consistently throughout the facility. 

Contact VPS to learn more

Contact VPS to Learn More About Loading Dock Canopies for Distribution Centers 

Keep workers and goods in the loading dock protected from heat, hail, and sunlight. At VPS, we have distribution center canopies to dramatically reduce the temperatures under the direct sun by up to 30 degrees and protect goods from hail damage. Our hail and sun protection shade structures enable distribution centers to enhance loading dock efficiency and safety for all parties.

Contact VPS now to request a free, customized quote or to learn more about how our distribution center canopies can protect warehouse workers and goods.